You are being redirected - hold on tight!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Film Review: 3:10 is Rousing Acting Masterclass

Christian Bale and Peter Fonda keep their eyes peeled for Dick Cheney

3:10 to Yuma, James Mangold's new western, isn't a reinvention of the genre. Rather it's a re-embrace of a lately neglected storytelling idiom that is uniquely American. The years immediately following World War II were arguably the golden age of the Western when films like the Delmar Daves' original 3:10 to Yuma, High Noon, and Shane used the frontier as a staging ground for explorations of morality that often touched on the contemporary political scene. So it is with the Yuma remake.

Essentially this is a story about integrity in the face of raw greed -- two men who have it amidst a world sorely lacking in it. Christian Bale plays struggling rancher and family man Dan Evans who agrees to help deliver Russell Crowe's elegant outlaw Ben Wade to justice. Crowe underplays his character brilliantly, never going for the easy line reading or over the top scenery chew. From the way he beckons his horse to his sly smile Crowe has built a shaded contoured performance that is among his best. It would be easy enough for him to walk away with the film. Bale however matches him note-for-note with his hangdog appearance and penetrating eyes. He also has a smile, though his is full of fatalism and even humor at his own stubbornness. Bale is physically similar to Crowe's acting partner Guy Pearce in L.A. Confidential and it would be easy enough to see him in this role. The difference between Bale and Pearce is the way Bale allows his characters (like Patrick Bateman in Psycho or even Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins) to see themselves as others must see him, and even revel in this self-knowledge.
Rounding out the cast is haggard western vet Peter Fonda as a mercenary Pinkerton, an excellent Ben Foster (180 degrees from his role as Russell on HBO's Six Feet Under) as an avenging member of Ben Wade's gang, and an underused but effective Gretchen Mol as Bale's wife.

The scenery is stunning, as it should be, and setpiece scenes such as a stagecoach robbery and a chase through the railroad cut under construction come off well. But as much gunplay as there is, the film really centers on what makes a person feel they can live with themselves and what their price is. Time and again Bale is offered the money he so desperately needs in exchange for his principles and similarly Crowe has ample opportunity to be the cold-blooded killer he is reputed to be. You get to know what drives these men to their own version of higher principles as they get to know themselves. Whether you buy the film's ending or not depends on whether you can accept the film's philosophy or whether you only care for the mechanics of a shoot-em-up.

Politically both red and blue staters can take from Yuma what they like, but consider this. Like many westerns, there is a deep strain of the little guy getting pushed around by powerful interests intent on 'civilizing' the region , often embodied by the railroad. In Yuma this is Dan Evan's, whose ranch stands in the railroads way. Later on we are introduced to a pocket of holdout Apaches who, like Evans refuse to vacate their land in the face of wholesale occupation and slaughter. Evans has also been let down by a government who's bureaucratic indifference values his body like a piece of meat in the wake of his Civil War service.

3:10 To Yuma sticks with you, and here's hoping it sticks with Oscar voters when it's nomination time as both Bale and Crowe turn in award-worthy work. Yuma gets four of of five choo-choo trains:

No comments: