1/21/09

3:10 to Yuma (2007)

Russell Crowe (Ben Wade), Christian Bale (Dan Evans), Logan Lerman (William Evans)

Directed by James Mangold (Walk the Line)

Summary: a poor rancher (Bale) becomes a hired gun to bring a stagecoach robber (Crowe) to justice. Much violence ensues. I'll include several rugged man pics.

I haven't done a review in ages, but this one compelled me to rant.

On occasion, movie critics get all in on themselves and make a big deal out of certain phenomena, but not others. For example, when Robert De Niro and Al Pacino recently reteamed in Righteous Kill, lots of folks suffered conniptions. Oh, oh, oh, best actors of their generation going head to head...about 30 years to late!

Yet did anyone hear much about the key performances in 3:10 to Yuma? Despite how I think Russell Crowe is an arrogant so-and-so, he and Christian Bale are among the best actors of their generation (and dare I say it, of my generation). These are actors in their prime--tested, weathered, and amazing, but not so old that any buzz generated about their current project borders on nostalgia.

Watching them in 3:10 is like watching a very tense, often violent chess match. They are exquisite. Bale's accent is better, but Crowe's naturalism reminds me a great deal of Robert Downey Jr., all charm and utter ease. There's no way this guy is acting! Every line sounds fresh, as if improv, not a script, gives him voice. Absolutely brilliant, both of them, even when the plot veered slightly off the rails--ha, ha, coz it's a movie about a train--and into the realm of manly sentimentality.

I'll be talking the same riff when Public Enemies comes out soon, pitting Bale against Johnny Depp. God, it's like dark chocolate-covered-man awesomeness.

But then let's bring in the supporting cast. Who the hell is Ben Foster? Apparently he was Archangel in Brett Ratman's excremental X-Men III. Let's not hold that against him, shall we? He's young, only 28, but inhabits badboy Charlie Prince like a lizard in his slimy, clinging skin. When was the last time you saw a lackey motivated by homosexual feelings, who remains utterly sharp, evil, and strong? Not to say homosexuality is evil, or that the villainous portrayal of such is particularly original, but the motive for his character makes perfect sense--to be honest, he runs with the most genuine motivation in the whole film. Foster was able to instill what could've been a mincing, weak stereotype with cold, single-minded bloodlust, making his character entirely believable and seriously bone-chilling.

I think the marketing people understood the impact and dark charisma of his character, because they featured him on the theater preview poster:


Let's go back to Bale's character, a down-on-his-luck rancher who wants to become a hero in his son's eyes. Fair enough. But for the most part, he's not a heroic character. The heroism is, paradoxically, a cowardly sort that means upholding his pride, accomplishing what no one else could do, and leaving his family vulnerable. He defined heroism on being able to provide for his family--at least in his rhetoric, and in his initial motivation--but that became an increasingly thin excuse as the time of reckoning arrived. The complexity of such a man, who is by all appearances heroic yet, beneath it all, a coward at heart, will have me thinking for days. None of my conclusions will bode well for his character, but it does make me all the more appreciative of Christian Bale's performance.


(He and Guy Pearce need to have a competition for grimiest western cowboy type with the sharpest cheekbones. They can duke it out. I'd pay money.)


However, the same cannot be said of poor Alan Tudyk. I love me some Wash, but he doesn't exactly blend in this here western. Newcomer Logan Lerman was particularly good, so I look forward to seeing him in future roles, but the same cannot be said for poor whatever-happened-to Gretchen Mol--as limp as ever. And if I were Jane Fonda, I wouldn't want brother Peter running around making movies portraying grizzled old bastards, because it would only remind folks that she's actually three years his senior.

Overall James Mangold, who has directed a diverse bunch of films including Girl, Interrupted, Cop Land, Kate & Leopold, and the brilliantly underrated Identity, deserves whatever project he lands next. This was a tense, skillful drama and let the actors do their jobs. Moments of beautiful dramatic touches, such as the trian's heartbeat during the finale, did not go unappreciated as I watched--but I call bullshit on green pears being shot during the final chase.

Pears. In Arizona. In the summer. During a drought.

But nothing, not the direction or the quirky motivations or the occasional gaffe, held a candle to the power certain men have to command every scene they're in.

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