CrankyÕs Flickershow Reviews
By Neil Richter
Shane with a Gatling Gun
3:10 To Yuma is a perfect example of how a talented director and a game cast can take a tangle of clichˇs and spin them into something truly enthralling. There wasnÕt one moment in this film that felt like it hadnÕt been featured in any number of western/action movies beforeÉand yet the magic was still there. The film as a whole creates and maintains an energy that is bleakly, blisteringly alive. With 3:10 To Yuma, director James Mangold has plunged his hands into a morass of Western conventions and come up with a movie built out of blood, sweat, pain, and testosterone.
The plot is simply a vehicle by which to transport the characters from point A to point B while ensuring that there will be many opportunities for said characters to shoot at each other along the way. Outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) has just been captured after the bloody robbery of a stagecoach. Struggling Rancher Dan Evans (Christian Bale) who just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, offers to help transport the outlaw to the title train, which will then take him to prison, and a noose. He sees it as an opportunity to make some much needed cash, while somehow proving himself to his wife and children who have lost faith in him a long time ago. Of course its not going to be easy, what with the remnants of WadeÕs gang hot on his trail, led by the psychotic Charlie Prince (Ben Foster). What follows is one of the most testosterone-fueled thrill rides I have ever seen. Women are incidental in this version of the Wild West. They either serve as sexual dalliances, like the barmaid that Wade sleeps with early on in the proceedings, or act as a mirror by which the male characters view their own failings, as is the case with EvanÕs long-suffering wife. Everything comes back to male bonding: through talk, through fighting, through killing. The proceedings have more than a tinge of homoeroticism to them, a fact not lost on the narrative. One of the more interesting relationships in the film is between Wade and Prince, his second-in-command, whose fervent search for his missing boss seems to mask an unrequited, possibly sexual, longing. In many ways, Mangold turns back the clock and returns audiences to an earlier type of masculinity, wherein the only way to gain or regain oneÕs manhood is through bloodshed. And does that blood ever shed. 3:10 to Yuma bleeds like a faucet, with a body-count that seems to reach into the dozens.
It is here that the film walks a fine line with thrilling skill. A little bit more and it would have degenerated into a gore-soaked melodrama. A little bit less and it would be boring and indistinguishable from any of the other Ōneo-westernsÕ out there. In the end, 3:10 To Yuma succeeds because of the strength of its convictions. Every character, no matter how small, manages to rise above clichˇ through sheer narrative force. Where many films are timid, this one DEMANDS your attention. No matter how ridiculous the proceedings may get, you believe in the world that the filmmakers have created.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the acting, which is stellar across the board. It would be redundant to say too much about the central performances of Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. Both do such consistent work that it goes without saying that they perform their respective roles with skill and ease. Bale in particular has yet to give a sub-par performance. What really impressed me, however, were the smaller parts of this ensemble. Peter Fonda as a cantankerous, worn-out Pinkerton. Dallas Roberts as a smarmy agent of the railroad, who somehow does the impossible in eliciting sympathy for a character who is written to be unlikable. This brings me to the real scene-stealer: Ben Foster. Out of all the crop of new actors, nobody, nobody, plays a nut-job quite like Ben. Want proof? Watch Hostage, watch Alpha Dog, hell, watch Bang Bang YouÕre Dead. This manÕs intensity, as well as his ability to control and shape it, are astonishing. Here he takes on A-listers like Crowe and Bale without breaking a sweat. You canÕt take your eyes off of him the whole time heÕs onscreen, although youÕll probably want to: FosterÕs Ōevil stareÕ is currently the most unnerving in Hollywood. In addition, he does great, subtle work when it comes to fleshing out the unspoken attraction he has for CroweÕs character. This all comes to a head in his final scene in the film. I wonÕt give too much away, just that he simply looks at Wade a certain way, and you suddenly understand everything about his characterÕs motivation.
The bottom line is this: I have no misgivings about the film, no quibbles, no smart-alecky comments. It is a rock-solid Western that churns along with confidence and verve, performed by an expert cast. It avoids one of my main action movie complaints by creating rich characterizations for all of the main players, thus creating a real sense of investment when the bullets start flying—you really care about these people. 3:10 To Yuma is a winner through and through. Go see it.