Sep 10, 2007

3:10 to Yuma

I've never cared about Westerns. Could not be bothered about the sheriff, and the bad guy and the Indians and the saloon and the horsies. The few Westerns I saw growing up bored me to tears (except Red River with Montgomery Clift, I remember liking that one) so there is a big gaping hole in my exposure to the genre.
The 3:10 to Yuma
doesn't seem to be a great Western, but it is quite enjoyable, if a bit meandering, and well worth seeing because of the actors.
So who is better? My darling Christian Bale or Russell Crowe?
For my money, Mr. Bale wins by an inch. Russell Crowe is a wonderful actor and a bona fide movie star. He plays Ben Wade, a very evil man who is very charming and smart and somewhat sensitive, but ruthless. In between the mayhem he orchestrates, he draws artsy doodles (that's how we know he is sensitive, perhaps gay), he is courteous and irresistible to women, and his eyes radiate the wisdom and fake benevolence of the supremely arrogant. It is to Mr. Crowe's credit that he delivers a very understated performance, very quiet and still and compelling, instead of going for scenery chewing showboating. He seems almost too aware of his own stillness, and as such gives more of a movie star turn. Still, he is very good and he has in Christian Bale a great partner. Bale is super intense, you can feel the commitment of his character. He is totally credible as the man who feels he needs to bring Wade to justice so people stop taking him for a wimp. It is hard to think of him as a wimp, because he burns with an inner fire that is totally palpable, and that is what makes him so wonderful to watch. As in his amazing turn in Rescue Dawn, he makes the heroic human, which as far as I'm concerned, is an heroic feat for an actor. I am apeshit over Christian Bale, in case you haven't noticed. Had Martin Scorsese tapped him to play Howard Hughes in The Aviator, that would have been a much better movie.
Then there is Ben Foster, a guy I don't think I'd ever seen before, who plays Wade's extremely evil sidekick, who happens to be gay. Foster relishes his villainy and yet he seems to have a major crush on Wade. He is excellent. And Peter Fonda shows up as a grizzled self-righteous guy, not acting up a storm as usual, but making it work somehow, in his offhand way.
Yuma is above average because it tries quite hard not to make the meanie all that mean, while the good guy is a decent man who hovers perilously close to stupid. Both represent the worst and the best of the American psyche. The ruthless self-interest, always couched by a great deal of sophistry, and the impulse for decency and respect for the law and for others. The plot itself doesn't add up to scrutiny, but it is an extended metaphor on how can these two opposing sides of the national character be reconciled. Why insist on following the letter of the law in a lawless society? Why not take justice into your own hands? It's an interesting point to make today. Bale's stubborness almost begs you to scream, just shoot the bastard and get it over with, but the point is there is a law (and a reward, let's not forget) and it's there for something. Basically it boils down to whether you can thrive honestly or you are going to lie and cheat and steal and kill your way into riches. Story of this country.
Unfortunately, the movie is uneven. It has some great dialogue and then some silly lines that seemed pegged on (on torture: "that's immoral". DOH), and not all is pristinely staged.
For my taste, the first action sequence in Yuma is very confusing, the sound not always intelligible, and it takes a while for the movie to hit its stride. I don't know if it is the film or the sound system of the theater, but I could hear the bullets much more clearly than the dialogue.
I read that people were plotzing because digital effects were used in the big robbery sequence. What's the big deal? That's precisely what CGI should be used for, not so much for elves and trolls and aliens vs. predators, but for not blowing up a real horse if you can help it.
I'm glad Yuma did such great box office this weekend because it is not a stupid film, although it has a really stupid ending.

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