Dir: James Mangold
Starring: Christian Bale, Russell Crowe, Peter Fonda, Alan Tudyk, Grechen Mol, Logan Lerman
Run. Time: 117mins
In an attempt to save his ranch Dan Evans (Christian Bale) volunteers to escort outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) to Contention town and board the 3:10 train to Yuma prison to stand trial for his crimes. Along the way the band are met with dangers from all sides and the two men form a bond that may carry them to the train.
I was really looking forward to this film. I’ve recently been completely converted to the Western genre and Christian Bale, in my mind, is undoubtedly the finest actor currently working in cinema today. The film is based on a short story by Elmore Leonard (writer of Rum Punch, on which the excellent Jackie Brown is based), the supporting cast looked excellent and the director seemed pretty solid. But I just did not think this movie was any good.
There are many problems but the main one is probably the screenplay. The film just makes so little sense. Up until the point where they set off for Contention everything is fine. Dan is a downtrodden rancher desperate to make good in the eyes of his family. Fine. Ben Wade is a badass outlaw with an equally badass posse. Ok. Ben Wade gets his ass caught because he decides to stay in town and have some fun with a woman. Fair enough. Then as they transport this fella to Yuma his posse follow but Ben Wade manages to take out most of his captors anyway. This would be fine if there was some degree of questioning the worth of the venture but that never really comes into it. Just, oh look he’s killed someone else despite us having him cuffed, let’s just leave him EXACTLY LIKE THAT and carry on. They make no attempt to put him any further out of action like tying his feet or why not break his fingers? I know you can nit-pick most films with questions like this but here it went beyond the realms of an exceptional suspension of disbelief and just became stupid. It feels like a horror film stuck in the middle of a Western as we waited to see who was going to be dispatched next and in what imaginative way. By the time we get to the end the odds are ridiculous and not entertainingly so. The last sequence is absolutely ludicrous as we’re asked to accept that there’s some real tangible bond between the two men and there isn’t. So we ultimately have to believe that Ben Wade WANTS to get on the train and the best way to do that is to run through the gunfire of his posse. It’s just too silly to really describe. It’s another one of these films where characters shoot other characters for either no or just incredibly stupid reasons and it makes no sense and all it does is make you question the writing, not go, “Wow he just shot that guy. He’s so cool!” There’s also a pivotal revelation made whilst one character is being choked so I didn’t quite make out what was said. It’s very frustrating. The very end is one of the least fulfilling, most idiotic sequences I’ve ever seen and I can’t really talk about what’s wrong with it without totally spoiling the film but it essentially makes the whole preceding 112 minutes totally null and void, but not in a good way like The Usual Suspects. This just makes you feel as if you’ve been cheated of what little you’d already been given. Maybe it has something to say about the nature of an outlaw but by this stage I was completely bored. Perhaps that is the film’s greatest sin. Even with all of this silliness if it at least entertained then it would be worthwhile but it doesn’t, it bores. The film might have made more sense if I actually felt a bond between Wade and Evans but to my mind there was no change from the beginning to the end of the film and I don’t think it’s because I did pick up on the subtleties of the performances.
There is absolutely no chemistry between the two leads. Christian Bale is still excellent. He gives Dan Evans a fully realised character. A man who wants to be heroic but is prevented from doing so by the injury he received in the Civil War. But a man with a strong sense of responsibility to his family. He feels impotent because of his injury and inability to provide for his loved ones and has a desperate need to prove himself. This is moving and it’s thanks to Bale that this happens. Ben Wade is a badass. But a badass that draws pictures. Everyone, “Awwww.” This archetype is a shallow but useful character and Crowe manages to sap all charm out of the role. There’s no energy, no menace, no likeability. The character ends up inhabiting a boring limbo between a complete villain and a loveable rogue but it’s not an interesting limbo, it just smacks of poor execution. Maybe you need to find him really cool to enjoy this film. I really didn’t on either count. The supporting cast is wasted as all we get to do is wait for them to die in predictable fashions. I’ve heard from everywhere that Ben Foster steals the show. He’s nothing special here. He’s loyal and unstable and he can spin his gun round his finger. It takes more than that to impress. He isn’t cool. This film might have a lot of things to say and questions to ask of men’s boundaries and how relationships form and retribution but it just isn’t well-executed enough to evoke these questions. And asking them afterwards just feels like I’m digging to find something worthwhile out of a waste of time. The young actor playing Evans’s son was quite good though, but the father/son relationship felt tired and we have seen it before.
On the plus side it’s well put-together and the stupid action sequences are at least well filmed. The soundtrack is unspectacular, but solid and one of the posters (the one below) was admittedly very cool.
I’m sorry that this has been more of a rant than a review but this film was really disappointing and amazingly an actual Batman vs. Gladiator flick, anachronistic as it would have been, would have been less stupid than this effort.
In Brief: A nonsensical and disengaging attempt at a Western with one poor and one excellent central performance and a total void of chemistry existing between the two because of this. Only remotely worth the ticket price for Christian Bale but a complete waste of time otherwise.
Originally posted Monday, 24 September 2007.