Wednesday, November 12, 2008

3:10 to Yuma (2007)

(Image from IMP Awards)

3:10 to Yuma (2007)

Russel Crowe plays charismatic criminal legend Ben Wade and Christian Bale the poor, grim rancher Dan Evans who helps escort the captured Wade to the 3:10 train to Yuma in this western action film. As the story begins, we find Evans desperate to keep his farm from being taken away - this desperation leads to him volunteering, for a tidy sum of money, to join a small group on what seems to be a fools errand trying to escort Wade; it's a fools errand because they are being chased by Wade's terrifying gang of cutthroats who are hellbent on rescuing their boss. Evans' group are slowly picked apart on the journey by various threats, including Wade himself, who regards the whole escapade with wry amusement. Evans leaves his family behind at his ranch, but his elder son William - who is somewhat ashamed of his father and idolizes Wade - sneaks out after the group and winds up joining them mid mission. Consequently there's some family bonding and friendships are forged amidst the shoot outs and horse chases.

'3:10 to Yuma' is a pretty good film but seems to just miss the mark of being really good or even great in virtually all departments. Many of its major story beats are predictable and don't really generate much suspense, and the script doesn't fully succeed in selling the grudging camaraderie between Wade and Evans. There's also something a bit unbelievable about the whole thing - Wade seems capable of walking all over these guys at any moment and is ridiculously cocky, but the escort group don't take even the most basic precautions to protect themselves; as a result it's a little hard to sympathize with them when they start being killed. The whole father son thing had the potential to resonate but never really gets there.

The same missing of the mark is true of the scattered action scenes, which are fun but are also over the top and unconvincing, especially the final shootout which makes little sense and never makes you feel like anything's at stake. The performances of the two stars are solid - the naturally charismatic Crowe just cruises along while Bale is as reliable as ever in creating a somber and grim hero possessing quiet dignity - but the real highlight is the supporting role played by Ben Foster as Wade's cold, ruthless, unwaveringly loyal and effortlessly cool second in command Charlie Prince. Logan Lerman does a decent job as Evans' son William. Virtually everyone else is given little to do and is thus forgettable.

Despite all of my complaints, the whole thing comes together very well and is a fine piece of entertainment that's well above average. The story is compelling, the characters are interesting, the action scenes are, overall, fairly exciting, and the performances are good all things considered. It's just that the whole time I was watching it I was thinking that it really could have been better. Still, well worth a watch, and I loved the ending, which has some badass moments.

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