Saturday, January 30, 2016

OVP: 3:10 to Yuma (2007)

Film: 3:10 to Yuma (2007)
Stars: Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Logan Lerman, Ben Foster, Peter Fonda
Director: James Mangold
Oscar History: 2 nominations (Best Original Score, Sound Mixing)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 4/5 stars

When I make a list of my favorite filmic genres for people, the western is not usually on the top of the list, if I'm being honest.  Detective films, noir, romantic epics-these are what I usually gravitate toward, but there's always a caveat I throw on to this question, that if the genre is done well, I'll like pretty much any genre (even sports films, though that's admittedly a harder pill to swallow), and this is particularly true of the western.  Modern westerns, so rare compared to their heyday when they seemed to abound with an intense ease on the screen, are almost always made by a director who handles them with care, mostly because they had to beg to get them made, and films like Brokeback Mountain, No Country for Old Men, and The Assassination of Jesse James (my Holy Trinity of this century's westerns) are three of the greatest films of the past decade.  While 3:10 to Yuma never quite enters that territory, it is handled with immense care, bringing forth some really wonderful acting and action moments that sing onscreen, and reminds me why, at one point, we were so enamored with Christian Bale and Russell Crowe.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film follows Dan Evans (Bale), a man in need of money or he will lose his farm (the opening scene is of Evans' barn being destroyed by the men to whom he owes money, and there's an implication that next time it will be his family who is destroyed as a result).  He has a fractured relationship with his son William (Lerman), who sees him as a failure and someone to be ashamed of because he lives in shambles and cannot provide for his wife and children. While they are out on horseback, they happen upon a stagecoach robbery, where notorious outlaw Ben Wade (Crowe) and his gang, including Charlie Prince (Foster) are amongst the bandits.  This results in a series of events where Evans is hired to take a captured Wade to a 3:10 train to the Yuma Territorial Prison, in exchange for which he'll have enough money to pay his debtors.

All-in-all this may be the most western of western plotlines, and it's worth noting that this film is a remake of a classic 1957 film starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin.  However, the film never relies on its most rudimentary of plots for its strength, and instead does what great westerns do and rises above the expectations with flare.  Russell Crowe, at the time not quite the assured presence of a boring figure who used to be a movie star, was just about to end his reign as a major motion picture star, but you can see here why he became one in the first place.  Gone is the semi-seriousness of Les Miserables, but instead a wry sense of humor and a sheen of menace that makes his actions truly unpredictable-just when you think he's going soft he's willing to sacrifice someone to save his own skin, and only takes risks with himself in mind first.  Christian Bale's Evans, conversely, relies less on his later penchant for over-acting or overtly method style, and we see here simply a man trying to regain honor and his own family's fortune.  His son, played by Lerman who has always been a favorite of mine, is also distinctive enough that you can see why Lerman rose above the hundreds of random child actors who litter movies and instead actually became a film star in his own right.

Best of all is Ben Foster's Charlie Prince, it has to be said, someone who gained something of a cult following after this movie.  Ruthless to his core, he's also clearly a creature that we haven't seen in the western canon-a nasty, cruel man, but one who clearly likes the company of other fellas.  It's quite obvious that he's in-lust with Wade (not love, because I don't think Charlie Prince knows how to love, at least in a conventional way), but the way that he only is willing to take a gamble for someone is if it's for Wade spells out pretty clearly where Charlie Prince (or "Charlie Princess," as one man calls him before he dies) and his loyalties lie.  Overall, the cast is actually quite wholly outstanding, and though I didn't realize it while watching, it was actually nominated for the SAG Best Cast of a Motion Picture category, one of those rare times where they didn't just predict a Best Picture nominee and instead actually went for a film that deserves it.  After all, 3:10 to Yuma is a spry ride, and a very good movie.

Those are my thoughts on 3:10 to Yuma, a film I didn't expect to enjoy nearly as much as I did.  What about yours?  Are you as into the cast as I am?  Are you a supporter of its two Oscar nominations?  And what are some of your favorite modern westerns?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

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