23 September 2007 | bjxmas
Shades of gray. The measure of a man and what price he is willing to pay for justice
Being a fan of westerns from a young age, I really wanted to like this movie and I did. I just didn't love it because of a few too many plot holes and inconsistencies. If you are willing to suspend belief and enjoy the ride, it is a very satisfying movie filled with action, suspense and terrific acting showcasing the intricacies of complicated men.
As most westerns ultimately are, this was a movie about the measure of a man. When faced with extraordinary circumstances how far will a man go to do the right thing and what price separates good and evil. It is a story of youth with a riveting performance by a young Logan Lerman as a rancher's son who doubts his father's worth and struggles to come to terms with his expectations of what makes a man great and who he will idolize. Being a fan of the TV series Jack and Bobby, it was great seeing Logan again and enjoying his work. He gives a sensitive, nuanced performance and holds his own against some powerhouse acting from Russell Crowe and Christian Bale.
Russell is the perfect actor to play Ben Wade bringing a depth and humanity to a character who is established early on as a dangerous, ruthless outlaw. There are indications from the start that Ben isn't your standard villain, and Russell does a great job at showing the shadings in this character while maintaining the threatening nature of Ben Wade. There is a hint of gentleness and sensitivity and even though you suspect childhood damage might have produced a man capable of such evil, you never doubt the viciousness this character is capable of.
Christian Bale turns in another intricate portrayal as the rancher, Dan Evans. Slowly the layers and truths of Dan are revealed until he is laid bare, with all his regrets and failings threatening to define him. As a man trying to provide for his family and gain the respect of his older son, he gives a captivating performance as an average man struggling to do what is right while faced with overwhelming obstacles.
The interaction between these two fine actors and how their characters end up on the continuum between good and evil is the focus of the movie. 3:10 to Yuma is an interesting merging between the old-fashioned westerns of long ago and the new psychological metaphors of modern movie-making. There are lots of dead bodies littering up the landscape, but the blood and guts movie style of Peckinpah is thankfully missing and we are left with a character study wrapped up in an action, chase flick.
Peter Fonda has a wonderful role as a grizzled old bounty hunter and even though I knew he was in the movie it took me forever to recognize him. I kept thinking the character reminded me of Richard Widmark, but perhaps there was a touch of Henry in there too. Alan Tudyk has a nice turn as a quirky doctor and Ben Foster is mesmerizing as the big bad sidekick of Ben Wade. Many will think Ben goes overboard on the characterization, but it was difficult to not watch him as the crazy, vicious killer, Charlie Prince. I think he held back just enough to make the character believable, in an intensely crazed, vicious old-west world.
Ultimately the bad guys were more believable to me than the good guys. There were several instances where I wanted to yell at the screen and tell the good guys they were doomed because of their inept actions, but perhaps they just haven't seen as many westerns as I have and didn't realize these bad guys were truly vicious animals and no mercy would be offered.
Towards the end is when the stretches of believability most disturbed me and the movie lost some of its sheen. I just didn't buy all the contrivances they threw at me and for me, that made the ending less than satisfying. My sister, on the other hand, loved the ending and was actually crying, but don't let the crying scare you off. She tends to get overly emotional when she buys into the story and she had no problem suspending belief and taking the ride they offered.
If you love westerns as I do, then you owe it to yourself to support this western at the theater in hopes the box office receipts will encourage more westerns to be produced. If you enjoy great acting and character development and the wider framework of what makes a man a hero and what forces drive a man to despair then this movie provides ample fuel for further discussion.
3:10 to Yuma could have been a great movie if they would have cleaned up some of the plot holes and reined in the ending, but all in all, it was a nice time at the movies and it certainly offered up some lively discussion afterward. The entire cast was stunningly good, the movie was beautifully photographed and the direction kept it moving at a good pace with no lulls or boring moments.
It offers a glance back at the old-time westerns with a few nice improvements. Even if you don't normally appreciate westerns, the acting and action should be enough to make the time spent enjoyable. And if you never appreciated westerns before then maybe it will be enough to make you want to check out some of the greats like High Noon and The Searchers. Westerns have always been a fertile ground for examining the complexities of man, what makes a man great, and the shades of gray that resides in all of us.