Sunday, December 20, 2009

Movie review: 3:10 to Yuma (2007)

I've said before that I'm partial to Westerns.  I like the grit, the morality play, the harshness of the landscape.  3:10 to Yuma is a strong entry in the genre.  Christian Bale plays Dan Evans, a nearly defeated rancher, a former Easterner wounded in the Civil War, whose cattle are dying of thirst, whose neighbor is trying to force him off his land and whose wife and sons have doubts about his ability to provide for them.  Russell Crowe is Ben Wade, a very successful outlaw, running a scruffy, disreputable crew who has robbed the railroad twenty-two times, to the tune of $400,000.  When Wade lingers in town after his last job, trying to spend some time away from his nasty gang, he is captured, although he doesn't seem to upset about it.  Evans ends up as part of the posse transporting the outlaw to the town of Contention to meet the prison train in order to collect reward money that will keep his ranch, and family, alive.

The cast is a loaded one.  In addition to Bale and Crowe, there's Alan Tudyk as the town doctor, Peter Fonda as the head Pinkerton in charge of bringing Wade in, Luke Wilson as someone scruffy with bad teeth, Gretchen Mol as Evans's wife and Ben Foster, who is fantastic as Wade's obsessively loyal second in command.  Bale and Crowe are both fantastic here, terrific actors who through the course of the film segue from animosity and disdain for each other to a grudging acceptance and even respect.  Bale is particularly good as an honest man getting more than he bargained for while trying to restore his family's faith in him.

The problem, for me, was the very ending of the movie.  Mr. Mouse gave 3:10 to Yuma a C, unable to account for the 180 degree turn Ben Wade makes at the very end (I'm trying to not entirely spoil the thing here).  I'm not judging quite so harshly, surmising that perhaps since Wade has come to like and admire Dan Evans, he is possibly willing to go back to the prison from which he has already escaped twice, to help Evans out.  It even makes sense to me that Wade could turn on his own men in the end, sick of associating with such "animals," as he deemed them earlier.  But still, it's such an awfully big change that seemed to come in a rush at the end that it just doesn't sit quite right.  I don't need everything wrapped up in a happy ending, and, in fact, prefer that many Westerns do not, but I need the characters to stay true to themselves.  Ben Wade changed just too much for me to really believe in it.  However, not everyone feels this way - Roger Ebert loved this movie, for example - and I think it's worth a viewing to make up your own mind about it.

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