| The Red Right Hand
3:10 TO YUMA
As a young boy memories of my father's interests could be summed up with one word; westerns. Like most children, I rebelled from his frontier-based tastes and settled into a world of horror and science fiction. Around the age of fourteen, I saw Tombstone and my opinion was drastically changed. Since then, I have become a big western fan and miss the days of character-based tales of morality, taking solace in Deadwood and S/F-Westerns like Firefly/Serenity and Cowboy Bebop. The premise of the story is extremely simple; renowned outlaw, Ben Wade [Crowe], is captured and needs to be escorted to the town of Contention, in order to get the 3:10 train to Yuma Prison, where he will be hanged the following morning. A rancher by the name of Dan Evans [Bale], facing gross debts and eviction from his land, offers to join the small posse of men for the fee of two hundred dollars. The main concern for our riders (made up of law men, bounty hunters and a timid veterinarian/doctor) is the ever-looming dust trail, kicked up by the horses of Wade's gang in pursuit.
Unlike other modern attempts, this is not an action film set in the West but a proper western. The tale focuses primarily on the choices and actions of a small band of men as they travel through canyons, trails and rickety-shacked towns. The key elements to the success of this film are incredibly simplistic; the first is Mangold's devotion to the classic western styles of High Noon, The Magnificent Seven and Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid. The other point to note is the sincerity of the acting; Bale and Crowe offer some of the finest performances on-screen but, rather surprisingly, it's the supporting cast that help stabilise and ground our main character's internal struggles. Audiences should be split between those rooting for Wade, those in Evan's corner and the remainder who simply cannot decide which man to bet on. Bale's role is a thankless one; a civil war veteran, who lost a leg and seems to be losing the respect of his wife and two sons for avoiding violent confrontation. Wade is a character that Crowe can really run with, a killer with a smile and a passion for sketching. Each character offers a unique look at a different aspect of western life, ranging from hired guns, stagecoach drivers, prospectors, ranchers and railroad merchants - ageing Pinkerton and fortune seeker, Byron [Peter Fonda] and the leftenant of Wade's gang, Charlie Prince [Foster] offer two of the finest accompanying performances of the piece.
The story is solid, well-paced and breathes life into a genre on life-support. In addition to this, Mangold's cinematography and direction are perfect, highlighted with sets and designs that offer an oddly beautiful homage to the pioneering, frontier life. The best comparison I could think to draw would be the immensely impressive Open Range, which helped restore my faith in the rebirth of the modern western. The only small down notes I could find were in the abundance of male exploration in the piece; I realise that may sound a little strange but women were equally vital and frontrunners of the covered wagon era. Throughout the script, the woman-folk are spoken of but never really referenced on screen bar a small scene with a barmaid and Evans' wife, [Mol]. Other than this slightly under-explored side, the heart and intensity of the story really sell this amazing film and offer a wonderfully entertaining two-hour period bonanza.
14th September 2007
The Scene To Look Out For:
Oddly enough, the scenes I wish to highlight are the ones that veer away from action, background or even conversation. Any time you get to see the troupe of men riding slowly closer to Contention, we are treated to a genre-loyal and impressive score by Marco Beltrami; the relatively young Italian who scored The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada so exceptionally.
It's very rare that I watch a film and do not instantly highlight Christian Bale as the finest performer but oddly enough, Russell Crowe really steals the show. Ben Wade's character is one that was so difficult to analyse, that I had immense fun watching him. As a contrast to the quick-drawing, sketch-toting, slick-talking Wade, Charlie Prince, the second-in-command, is a nightmare to behold. The intent and malice with which he executes his actions are truly cinematic gold and it becomes clear that Prince cares greatly, to the point of being in love with, Wade. Both Wade and Prince offer two sides of the villain coin; both vicious killers but one respects his captors' loyalty to the cause, the other does not.
"All a man's ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs the heart. Proverbs 21:2"
In A Few Words:
"The western may not be experiencing a full-scale comeback but audiences are certainly being treated to genuine gems, such as this wondrous piece"