Monday, April 28, 2008

It's Tough Being A Man

Finally having the time to sit down and watch James Mangold's remake of 3:10 To Yuma, I am appalled at myself for not having caught it earlier when the DVD came out, and more appalled at the distributors for not bringing such a fine film to our cinemas.

Nicely paced and with superb performances all round, the film is both complex and entertaining, two qualities which, with today's films, seem mutually exclusive. The tautly written script contributes much to the film's overall feel, but I'm extremely impressed by the meticulousness of everything, from the framing right down to the soundtrack. What's more, Mangold is subtle enough to understand the effectiveness of silence, and the allows the actors a lot of space to express with their faces rather than with dialogue.

I've never seen the original 3:10 To Yuma, which was made in1957. But I'm pretty sure this new one is far more brutal and informed with a contemporary urgency. While it's simply a story of desperation, where Christian Bale's Dan Evans, in a bid to save his ranch, takes up the job of
escorting a dangerous outlaw, Russell Crowe's charismatic Ben Wade, to the railway station, it's also a meditation on what it means to be a man. But what I'm really taken with is the film's preoccupation with survival, not often a thing to be found in Westerns. Usually, you get the good guys and the bad guys, and the mythical heroes like the Marshalls and the Cavalry trumpeting their way to the rescue of some poor souls.

Here, sometimes the roles and motivations are blurred, especially when backstories are revealed and you learn the true nature of some of the characters. In the chaos that often follows the lawmen and volunteers and their prisoner through the rough terrain, it's often you don't know who's rescuing who and who's leading who to where. Everyone's just doing their thing to stay alive. In his desperation to save his ranch, Evans even ends up working alongside some of the people who burned down his barn in the first place. In a nighttime Apache attack, Evans unwittingly hands his weapon to Wade who then saves everyone.

But the most interesting of course, is the complex relationship between Evans and Wade, with both men's original intentions on this journey to catch the 3:10 train to Yuma prison gradually morphing as they come to understand more about each other.

This has been a terribly underrated film. It's as beautifully shot as any John Ford film (coincidentally, the sound mix was done at the John Ford Theatre at 20th Century Fox), gorgeous in its 2:35 photography.

David Bordwell visited the film's mixing session.

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