3:10 to Yuma

2008-01-10 16:37
What it's about

In a desperate bid to save his land from the encroaching railroad, a downtrodden rancher (Christian Bale) volunteers to escort a notorious outlaw (Russell Crowe) to a neighboring town in exchange for $200. But while he and his companions are pursued by the outlaw's merciless gang of thugs, it is their captive who proves to be most dangerous on the journey.

What we thought of it:

Westerns have been out of fashion for the better part of a decade now, but watching Christian Bale and Russell Crowe in the midst of a gun battle, scowling at each other through their carefully applied grime, you have to wonder why. There's a reason little boys want to be cowboys – they are darn cool. The problem with 3:10 to Yuma though, is that it lets its ambitions get in the way of a good yarn.

Not that it doesn't look every bit the part. With characteristic craftsmanship, director James Mangold has painstakingly recreated a slice of the Old West in all its gritty glory. Everything from the Colt pistols to the carefully disheveled costumes scream authenticity, as do the grim jawed performances by the cast.

Christian Bale is particularly good as the moral lynchpin of the film – a grizzled Civil War veteran named Dan with a wooden leg and a family to feed. Bale is one of Hollywood's most adaptable talents, but he's best at roles that call for brooding or anguish – and this one calls for both. The role also needs someone who can subsume their own ego – Dan cuts a pretty pathetic figure after all – but Bale is, as always, indistinguishable from the character.

The same can't be said for Russell Crowe as Dan's foil, the outlaw Ben Wade. In fact, Crowe seems more interested in being charming than menacing. Oh, he's magnetic as always, but he never seems entirely at ease with being the bad guy.

That said, Crowe and Bale do have excellent onscreen chemistry – a vital component in what is really more of a meditative study in honour and respect than a showdown at the OK Corral. But, however interesting this character study may be, you can't help wish they'd cut loose a bit more. This is particularly true of the disappointing ending which gives up its credibility in favour of making a moral point.

In fact that's the film's greatest failing – it's tendency to strike poses and make points. In doing so it becomes a kind of stiff replica of a Western, with all of the hallmarks of authenticity but little of the spark. Is it worth watching? Undoubtedly. But will it leave you wanting more? Probably.

- Alistair Fairweather
This beautifully crafted film from the director of Walk the Line has all the ingredients of a classic western – gunslingers, outlaws, injuns – but is just too stiff to really get the blood pumping. Sure is beautiful to look at though.

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