Tuesday, September 18, 2007

3:10 to Yuma

This past weekend I had the sincere pleasure of seeing 3:10 to Yuma, James Mangold's (Walk the Line) remake of the 1957 film of the same name, and the second adaptation of Elmore Leonard's (Get Shorty et al) short story. Staring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, each in roles that play to their singular strengths in economy of words and depth of silent expression, the film defied my high expectations and left me speechless.

At the Emmys on Monday night, Robert Duvall talked about how the Western is uniquely American, a film tradition and genre that better than any other medium captures the essence of what it means to be American and pursue justice. Duvall may have used some broad brushstrokes in painting that image, but he's not far off and very convincing, especially when films like this are still being made. At the heart of every Western is a core struggle to do the right thing, adhere to an ethical ideal, or defend one's dignity. In a film that carries this much gravity and decision making, there's no shortage of conversation - and over dinner my wife and I had a blast speculating and debating over the actions of the main characters in this film (not unlike one would do over political decisions, foreign policy, etc.).

Like any Western, the cinematography was spectacular - the New Mexico landscape was brilliant, expansive and oppressively dry. It was the perfect setting for our characters to carry on with their respective existential initiatives. And each played their parts convincingly (despicable villains, earnest homesteaders, fearful leaders, etc.). The plot holds its tension taut - there were admittedly times where the action seemed implausible, but then the story advanced a hidden trait that makes everything even more clear than we had initially thought, illuminating the purpose of every action. In the end, it's hard to find fault with this film. Surely a bet in Oscar season.

4 out of 5 stars


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