Friday, September 7, 2007

3:10 to Yuma


Bad Men, Good Movie

The Western has been out of vogue lately. Ever since Clint Eastwood made Unforgiven (1992), it seemed to be the final chapter on this once-popular genre. While I’m not a huge fan of stories like this, I’m glad when well made ones come along. 3:10 to Yuma is one of these good ones, a slow-brewing tale of desperation, loyalty, and murder. It’s worth seeking out in this typically dismal month of September.

Outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) has just committed his twenty-second robbery against the Southern Pacific Railroad, killing everyone who stands in his way. While taking his time with a pretty girl, he is apprehended with the help of local rancher Dan Evans (Christian Bale). He needs money fast to save his parched land, and agrees to help transport the deadly Wade to Yuma, Arizona to catch the train that will take him to prison and a hangman’s noose. With Wade’s gang pursuing, the motley crew of locals will need all the help they can get to meet their deadline.

One thing I really liked about this movie is the slow, simmering plot. Nothing feels rushed here, but plays out at the perfect pace. This allows us to get to know these people, and worry about their outcomes. There is action to be sure, but it feels at the service of the story, and not the other way around. This generates real tension, as these outgunned men creep toward their destination with death right on their heels.

The casting is perfect. Crowe (A Good Year) is suitably oily and charismatic, but he’s also likable. Still a killer, he has sympathy for Evans in his dire circumstance. Bale (The Prestige) is just as good, and as he often does, completely disappears into this rancher who just wants to save his family and their livelihood. He’s gaunt and leathery, and says more with his intense look than any dialogue. I also liked Logan Lerman (Hoot) as Evans’ son (who looks a lot like a young Christian Slater), William. The arc of their relationship is an important part of the story, and they go well together.

In fact, this is really a movie about the different relations these men have with each other. Wade grows to respect Evans, but doesn’t understand his lifestyle choice. Evans seems to distantly admire Wade, but can’t agree with his methods. Father and son are at odds, then bond. Wade enjoys his gang (who see him as some sort of god) and what they bring him, but secretly hates them all. It’s these levels that elevate what could be just another western to something far more interesting.

Oddly, where the movie seems to stumble is in the action sequences. They aren’t nearly as involving or inventive as the rest of the material. They just seem to be there because that’s what the genre requires. Due the strength of everything else, this doesn’t wreck the film, but is a curiosity nevertheless.

3:10 to Yuma is an immersive and compelling piece that plays more like period drama than shoot-em-up western. It has more depth than your typical movie of its kind, and with the exception of the action, is very satisfying.

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