346 – 3:10 to Yuma

This remake of the 1957 oater (that’s movie talk for “western”) is servicable largely because of the earnest craftiness of its two leads, who skillfully play off each other in a battle of wills, if not morals. Unfortunately, while the motives of the good guy (playes by Christian Bale) are both noble and realistic, some of the actions of the bad guy (Russell Crowe) may leave you scratching your head, and while nebulous intentions can make for wonderful mystery, in the end you’re still not sure why Crowe’s dastardly Ben Wade has done what he’s done, and what it all means.

Dan Evans (Bale) is a dirt-poor farmer who lost a leg in the Civil War. His farm’s about to be foreclosed by an unscrupulous land owner who’s taken to damming a river and burning down Evans’ barn to force him off his own property. So when stagecoach robber Ben Wade (Crowe) is captured and needs to be escorted to the nearby town to get on the titular train, Evans volunteers, both to gain payment to help save his farm and to save face in front of his two kids, one of whom is sick from tuberculosis and one who thinks his old man is a spineless failure. Saddled by debt and ungrateful kids, Evans’ decision and motivation are easy to understand.

Ah, but getting the nefarious Wade to Yuma is going to be a complicated trick indeed, because the rest of his gang, led by Charlie Prince (Ben Foster) isn’t going to let their fearless leader be trundled off to Yuma to die. Luckily, bounty hunter Byron McElroy (a gritty Peter Fonda) gets the idea of using a decoy stagecoach to lure the varmints off the trail while he and the rest of the posse, including Evans, schlep Wade in the other direction. The gambit works for a while, allowing the good guys to place precious geographical space between them and the bad guys; it also allows the movie to continue unabated. Because, after all, there are more people in Wade’s gang then there are trying to bring him to justice – all they’d have to do is find him, shoot the hell out of the place, and grab him.

Although there’s plenty of gunplay and death by bullets, this is much more of a psychological drama than anything else. Wade, as played coldly (but not charmlessly) by Crowe, has two goals in mind: gain the mental upper hand on Evans, an untrained rancher, and gain his escape from the clutches of law and order. Meanwhile, although Evans’ intentions are less murky, he’s not some squinty-eyed sharpshooter whose aim is always true; he’s not an iconic hero who you just know is gonna save the day. Bale is terrific; you can really see the anguish he feels as a supposed failure in the eyes of his sons. In the hands of lesser actors, these two complex roles would have seemed less symbiotic and therefore less sincere. For example, apparently Movie Guy Tom Cruise was initially supposed to have Wade’s role; if that had come to fruition, we would have been distracted by Movie Star Tom Cruise, and the movie would have suffered terribly as a result.

But despite the wonderful performances by Bale and Crowe, the movie’s shortcoming is that Ben Wade’s intentions seem rather inscrutable. I don’t mean that they’re simply ambiguous (is he going to flee or help the good guys fight off Navajo Indians?), I mean that they don’t make much sense. One minute, Wade is all set to get away from Evans and escape to the safety of his gang, but in the next he’s actually fending off his gang as it attacks Evans. There’s no explanation given for this change of heart, but the new attitude is gone as quickly as it arrives, leaving the viewer a little puzzled. Sure, some may explain this as “Wade comes to respect Evans and so doesn’t want to see the rancher killed,” but Wade’s actions were much more than that. He wasn’t just trying to save Evans, you see, he was actively trying to knock off members of his own gang, and the reason for that escaped me completely.

Still, 3:10 to Yuma is firmly entertaining, benefitting from two gritty, believable performances by Crowe and Bale, although it’s marred by some unexplained actions on the part of its charismatic villain.

***

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: