Wednesday, October 03, 2007
3:10 to Yuma (2007)
It's a good movie - entertaining with action, suspense, and nice character touches - but I don't think it's a great film. Like most classical Westerns it's a morality tale, pitting the differing ideologies of two men against each other: Christian Bale's desperate yet honorable Dan Evans and Russell Crowe's confident rogue Ben Wade.
The original 1957 film is a stripped-down character piece with Glenn Ford as Wade acting like a devil on Van Heflin's shoulder, constantly trying to tempt him away from doing the right thing. That's all well and good, but in the new movie this simple clash between two men is diffused over a larger cast and more wide-ranging plot. Bale's motivations are clear, to earn money to save his family's ranch, but I can't say the same for Russell's character. Sometimes, his Ben Wade is a Hannibal Lecter-esque bad guy, eliminating more obnoxious characters to our approval and
psychoanalyzing Dan Evans, seeing what makes him tick. Sometimes he's a soulful charmer, seducing a barmaid and making pencil sketches. Sometimes he's a victim in need of civilized due process. And and sometimes he's a total villain, ruthlessly murdering those who are in his way, and not in the 'villain you love to hate' kind of way. I can't tell if it's a script problem, ascribing too many different purposes onto Wade's character, or an acting problem with Crowe unable to unify each of these different facets into a single performance. Either way, the point is the same: the movie tries to use Wade for too many different purposes, so that his function as a foil for Evans is seriously weakened. A movie that's a dramatic clash of wills between two men is only as good as my ability to discern what each of the characters is hoping to achieve.
In the end, the movie is about a simple moral question: what will Dan Evans do, persist in turning Ben Wade in or settle for an easier, safer path? It's a good and interesting moral conflict, but hampered by a basic uncertainty at the movie's core. In the end I think that James Mangold wanted to make a serious, probing ethical drama but his instincts pushed him in the direction of making a crowd-pleasing adventure, and while the two don't have to be mutually exclusive, I don't think Mangold completely pulled it off.
Anyway, good work from Peter Fonda and Ben Foster amongst the rest of the cast, and a fun ride despite my reservations.