If film critics are to be believed, and they rarely should be, the Western, a genre which has been part of the industry since the days of silent movies, is dead. Long considered to be a creatively bankrupt subject matter, Clint Eastwood‘s Unforgiven back in 1992 was meant to be the death knell of the American western for its refutation of the mythology. Well, if this is true, and the bell is finally tolling, then the last couple of years have seen the release of some exquisite corpses.
Australia’s The Proposition, released last year, was a fine, gothic examination of the limits of revenge. This year’s Assassination of Jesse James is a study on the effects that celebrity can have on the celebrated and those who wish to capitalize on it. Finally, in this excellent and surprisingly faithful remake of a 1950′s Glenn Ford picture, we have the issue of heroism, and what constitutes a heroic figure, and by whose definition.
Christian Bale, who is really rolling of late with his film choices, plays a destitute farmer who, in need of some quick cash, agrees to escort a notorious outlaw to a train bound for the Yuma prison. Said outlaw, played with overflowing charisma by the always terrific Russell Crowe, is a roguish character who engages Bale in a constant debate as to what he hopes to gain by his ‘heroic’ actions, since everybody knows that Crowe’s gang is lying in wait to free him and kill his captors. It is this give-and-take between the men that makes up the bulk of the story, although there are many entertaining diversions along the path to help the story maintain its considerable energies. Ben Foster, as Crowe’s most loyal of sycophants, nearly steals the movie with his unquenchable malevolence as he stalks the pair, waiting for his chance to free Crowe from the lawmen. A couple of entertaining and uncredited cameos add to the cast of memorable characters, and director James Mangold keeps the action moving at a brisk, and often quite violent, pace.
This was a strange choice for a remake, as the original is well-regarded but not really a pantheon picture, but thankfully it was approached with more gusto than reverence by all of the principles involved. It’s no small notice to say that, in what has been one of the best years in American cinema in decades, 3:10 to Yuma is one of my favorites of 2007.
Release Date: 1/8/08