Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Review: 3:10 to Yuma

Don't miss this ride
The Westerns are truly back. I know, because I saw neither spaceships nor pirates (a la Serenity, Star Wars) in 3:10 to Yuma, the latest cowboy flick since maybe Unforgiven? (Brokeback Mountain does not count.) For the young folks, a "Western" is a movie set in America circa mid nineteenth century, when cowboys rode horses around deserts shooting each other for money or revenge. They called it the "Wild West" for a reason. The movie's about ex-soldier Dan Evans (Christian Bale) who joined a group of people escorting notorious outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) to the town of Contention, where they're sending him off on the three-ten evening train to Yuma prison. Evans needs the money from this gig to save his ranch and feed his family. Complicating matters are Wade's second-in-command, Charlie Prince (Ben Foster), who is leading Wade's gang in pursuit, and Evans' son William (Logan Lerman), tailing his dad against his wishes.

3:10 to Yuma is a remake of a fifty-year-old classic, so, not to worry insecure hetero males, it's not jumping on the Brokeback Mountain bandwagon. It's more of a combination of the Hollywood Western and Sergio Leone's Italian Westerns, with the romanticism of the former and the gritty realism of the latter. The resulting concoction is a straightforward but enthralling men-on-a-mission movie, with the requisite action sequences tucked in between scenes. But it's the story and characters that drive the movie. You can't help but feel for Evans, who is like the nerd to Wade's jock, getting the hard times while Wade gets the money and chicks. Not only is Evans not getting any respect from his wife or son, but they actually got a little smitten over the ever-charming Wade. Kind of like real life, where nice guys finish last, while chicks still dig bad men. Just ask Mel Gibson, Jackie Chan, or Russell Crowe too, who are still in everybody's good books despite their prejudices, infidelity and violent tendencies respectively. As consolation, the good guy still gets his day at the end, and even the villain was more than a little moved by Evan's righteous grit. The code-of-honour theme is so John Woo, a Western fan himself, I'm surprised he wasn't offered to direct this movie.

Not surprisingly, the acting is stellar in 3:10, with resonating performances by Crowe and Bale. But the man who stole the show was Ben Foster. (Yes, Angel from X-men 3!) All your attention centres on his Charlie Prince whenever he appears. People have been calling him effeminate in the reviews and forums, but apart from his high-pitched voice, this guy swaggers like a badass throughout the movie. When Charlie rides into town with six of the meanest-looking hombres, you can still tell that he's the boss of the outfit just from the way he carries himself. If that isn't badass, I don't know what is.

I truly regretted not seeing this one before making my Best of 2007 list, because 3:10 to Yuma is definitely the best 2007 movie I've seen and would have taken the top award instead of Atonement, although that one's really good too. Thus, it gets a special consolation prize as an apology for my gross oversight. - BMF

Directed by James Mangold (Walk the Line, Identity) and screenplay by Halsted Welles (The Hell with Heroes, A Time for Killing), Michael Brandt and Derek Haas (Catch That Kid, 2 Fast 2 Furious). Stars Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Logan Lerman, Dallas Roberts, Ben Foster, Peter Fonda, Alan Tudyk, Gretchen Mol and Kevin Durand. Based on the short story by Elmore Leonard.

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