Thursday, June 20, 2013

3:10 to Yuma (2007)

Director: James Mangold                               Writers: Halstead Welles & Michael Brandt
Film Score: Marco Beltrami                           Cinematography: Phedon Papamichael
Starring: Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Logan Lerman and Peter Fonda

This a terrific modern western, a remake of the Glenn Ford film from 1957. Russell Crowe and Christian Bale are great and their contest of wills--but more importantly their reassessment of each other's character--is a joy to watch. This film is something of an oasis in a period when the only really interesting westerns in the last twenty years have been Open Range and Broken Trail. Director James Mangold suffered somewhat early in his career by filming his own scripts. But 3:10 to Yuma definitely benefits from being envisioned by different screenwriters and helped him make a satisfying modern western, something there have been few of since Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven in 1992.

The story opens at Bale’s homestead, with his barn being set on fire by the man who loaned him money. He lost a leg during the Civil War and his eldest son has lost all respect for him because he won’t fight back. The next morning when he’s rounding up his cattle, he witnesses the robbery of a stagecoach moving money for the railroad. Peter Fonda is the wily Pinkerton agent who is in charge of protecting it. He’s shot but not killed during the holdup. Russell Crowe is the leader of the gang and when he spots Bale and confronts him, takes his horses but lets him live. When Crowe is arrested in town, Bale asks for $200 from the railroad man to help take Crowe to the train station in Bisbee in order to be transported to the prison in Yuma on the 3:10.

One of the best parts of this film is how the screenwriters transform Crowe into a western version of Hannibal Lecter. When he is at Bale’s house in handcuffs while the decoy stage is taking the gang in a different direction, he gets Bale’s son to look up to him and his wife to confide in him. He uses the information to get into Bale’s head on the trail, and it almost works. Crowe is a master gunman and supremely confident in his skills, while at the same time Bale has lost all his confidence as well as his son’s respect. Still, Bale is the moral compass in the picture and in holding on to that it actually impresses Crowe in a way that even he didn’t expect.

Ben Foster is the crazy partner of Crowe, a stone killer who is effectively in charge of the gang while Crowe does his own thing. It’s great to see Fonda again, doing a nice job as the grizzled veteran. Dallas Roberts is the railroad man who has lost thousands of dollars to Crowe and wants nothing more than to see him hang. Doing a very nice job as Bale’s oldest son is Logan Lerman, who has a great look for the period piece and is very convincing. 3:10 to Yuma is a quality entry in a genre that hasn’t fared well the past couple of decades. It’s an enjoyable western that delivers humor, pathos, a good deal of action, and comes highly recommended.

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