3:10 to Yuma

Friday, October 05, 2007

3:10 to Yuma has one major flaw: at the end Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) doesn’t half seem keen to help Dan Evans (Christian Bale) out. Through the town they run, dodging bullets, and then they even take to the roofs and leap between buildings. Really, would a hardened criminal who wanted to avoid jail be so compliant, especially when his gang is there, trying to shoot down his captor? Plus, why does Ben run at all? He could quite easily just stand there and refuse to move – not for one second did I believe that Dan would gun him down in cold blood.

Of course, Ben’s motivation is explained somewhat. He develops a grudging respect for the herder and in a scene near the end when he briefly displays some obstinacy, he stops himself from killing Dan when Dan tells him the true story of how he lost his leg. So basically Ben goes along with this man so that Dan can be a hero to his son. Very noble, but not entirely believable. Although having said that, the end, where Ben whistles to his horse as the train leaves the station, suggests that Ben never had any real intention of going to jail, that he was always going to escape. So maybe his playing along with Dan isn’t quite as ridiculous as it initially feels.

That aside, though, I thought the film was marvellous. And although the ending still nags me somewhat, I did love the final few moments. The gunning down of Dan took me completely by surprise and I almost cheered when Ben smoked his gang. And bloody hell is Ben quick on the draw – I loved how quickly and casually he gunned them down. Plus I loved the way that sound of the train standing in the station became the soundtrack for the sequence – it added a whole layer of tension that would have been missing had it been scored.

However, it can’t have been just me that noticed a homoerotic undercurrent in the relationship between Ben and his main underling Charlie. Charlie seems to go to almost superhuman lengths to free his boss. Plus there’s the way that he seems almost disappointed that Ben wants to score some pussy. There they are, hanging out in a saloon, and Ben wants to nail the broad behind the bar rather than the skinny geezer sitting next to him. But Charlie doesn’t take it to heart. He tells his boss that he’ll be near, and then once Ben gets arrested he’s free to express his longing in more physical ways.

The best example is when Charlie beats one of his gang members. The man’s crime? Bad-mouthing Ben. Really, Charlie may as well be some sassy broad on Maury Povich, screaming, ‘Don’t talk no smack about my man.’ But this doesn’t detract from the film at all. Indeed, Charlie is a pretty fine underling. He doesn’t take any shit, he’s ruthless (I loved the way he burnt a man to death) and he’s completely immoral (dig the way he shot the pussy lawmen who try and cut and run). Plus you know a villain has done their job when you almost cheer their demise. ‘Take that’, I thought, as Ben finally penetrated him (albeit with hot lead rather than the sweet, hard cock he was gagging for).

But can you really blame Charlie for developing a man-crush on his boss? Neanderthal poet Russ cuts a fine figure in the film, stirring dicks and wetting the panties of chicks. Certainly the scene where he picks up the barmaid is very sexy, and you can’t help but feel that both Dan’s wife and son would happily betray ol’ peg leg for this hunk of a man if he made a bona fide move on them. Indeed, Crowe’s performance is one of the best he’s turned in for quite a while. He’s got the edge that the character demands and he also seems to be enjoying himself immensely – his performance is infectious.

Unfortunately Bale pales somewhat in comparison. He’s certainly just as good a performer, but he never stands a chance with his character, a man who is entirely decent but also just a tad dull. There’s not really a whole lot of complexity to him. He’s just a good man who has to go to lengths to secure his family’s financial wellbeing.

Therefore it’s Crowe who gets all the great moments. One of my favourite bits was when he threw Peter Fonda over the edge of a cliff for bad-mouthing his mother. Take that you old bastard! And then as already mentioned, there’s the scene with the barmaid. But I also liked the way he killed the guy who spent all his time taunting him – he stabs him with a steak fork in the middle of the night. Nice.

But the film’s actually pretty brutal. As well as the stabbing you have a gruesome surgery scene, more shootings than you can shake a stick at and a prolonged torture scene where poor Russ gets electrocuted. The film doesn’t pull its punches.

And there are a couple of fantastic action sequences. There’s the bit with the Gatling gun on the back of the coach (which is kind of a nod to The Wild Bunch) and there’s also the chase along the railroad. Sure both are fanciful, especially the moment where Dan shoots the stick of dynamite that Ben throws in the air, but it’s done with enough verve to make one forget such silliness.

But as to whether the film deserves to be an Oscar contender, I’m not so sure. It’s a simple film well done, but that shouldn’t be enough for awards. It’s certainly no Unforgiven. But still, it’s a successful stab at a modern Western.

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