Thursday, January 17, 2008

Can't someone make the trains run on time?

"[I'm] risking my life to save people I hate for reasons I don't quite understand. Gotta go!"
--Homer Simpson

Something like that could have been said by the character Dan Evans (Christian Bale) in 3:10 to Yuma, which I saw last night. Evans is a dirt-poor rancher and disabled veteran in post-Civil War southern Arizona who has lost the respect of his wife and of his son William, who pretty much idolizes a train-robber named Ben Wade (Russell Crowe), the subject of a series of cheap novels the kid loves to read. Evans is powerless in the face of his creditors, who want his land for the omnipotent Southern Pacific Railroad, and it seems as though he can do nothing to stop his ranch from being taken away. Evans and his sons happen upon Wade and his gang during a stage-coach robbery, and, by happenstance, Evans ends up as part of an escort party that is assigned to deliver Wade to the town where he will catch the 3:10 to Yuma, home of the Arizona Territorial Prison (which is currently a tourist attraction; I went there when it was 113 degrees outside). Evans really has nothing left to lose, and, by taking a notorious outlaw to justice (or, more accurately, the Southern Pacific) he can gain the respect of his family and make all of $200.

Wade is a charming, relatively cultured thug and a canny student of psychology. He finds Evans interesting, though he cannot bring himself to understand why Evans is so determined to deliver him to the train in the face of any and all adversity. Along the way, William Evans away from home to join-up with the escort party, and Wade seems to understand that he--and not Evans--is what attracted the kid to come along. Wade has another idolizer in his gang's second-in-command, Charlie Prince (Ben Foster), who has a huge hetero man-crush on Wade, and who will stop at nothing to free his boss.

I suppose the movie is, in large part, about the degree deserving people will go to gain respect, and the misplaced respect that is given to undeserving people. In what is basically a lawless frontier society, getting respect could entail putting one's life in grave danger. The movie is also a great, rip-roaring Western, chock full of fabulous performances. Russell Crowe and Christian Bale play their roles with restraint, though Bale's face frequently is seething with rage. I particularly liked the scene in which Evans poured out his frustrations to his wife. One would expect that kind of scene to be done with shouting or growling in sotto voce; Bale, however, did it by whispering. Crowe is soft-spoken during the film, despite his character's frequently violent behavior. The scene-stealer of the film is Ben Foster, whom some may remember as Claire's long-haired boyfriend on Six Feet Under. He is a dandied-up killer who likes to twirl his pistols and dismount his horses with great style. Peter Fonda also puts in a brief but fierce performance as a Pinkerton guard.

It was a bit odd for a viewer of HBO's late, great Deadwood to hear such mild language in a Western. Whatever. 3:10 to Yuma is a very good movie.


Ms-Chievous said...

I watched this movie this past weekend and unexpectedly, really enjoyed it.
I wasn't sure if it was really that good or because I had such low expectations.
I usually avoid anything "western" like I avoid paper cuts on my eyeballs, so it was a nice surprise.

Dan Evans (Christain Bale) had one line in the movie that made my chest hurt:
"I'm tired, Alice(his wife). I'm tired of watching my boys go hungry. I'm tired of the way that they look at me. I'm tired of the way that you don't."
Great review Randy.

Randy said...

That was the whispered line I had in mind. It was particularly poignant coming immediately after Evans saw how Alice was looking at Wade, who was very nearly charming her skirt off.