Thursday, 23 October 2008

3:10 to Yuma

Lowdown: A Western look at our apprehension of evil.
3:10 to Yuma is a new remake of a fifties Western. I can’t say that I have watched or remember the original, but the remake definitely caught my eye given that it features two of the very best contemporary actors and action heroes around, Russell Crowe and Christian Bale.
As we start watching 3:10 through some pretty intense action scenes featuring a Wild West carriage robbery we get acquainted with the two. On one hand, Crowe seems to be evil incarnate: The bible quoting leader of a gang of vicious robbers that stop at nothing from putting its paws on the prize money, including cold blood killings and including killing its own. Known as God’s Hand, Crowe even has a Jesus on the cross emblem on his pistol; what can match such a symbol of sadism?
Bale, on the other side, is a low key farmer. Having lost his leg in the American Civil War he is treading softly, wishing to avoid trouble. Trouble, however, finds him: A rich patron from his town burns his barn to convince Bale to return his debts but then blocks the water supply to Bale’s ranch. And now Crowe takes away Bale’s herd in order to assist with his carriage robberies. How much can Bale take? His son, for one, is tired of his father’s lack of a spine.
Then a great coincidence takes place, and Crowe is arrested while messing about at Bale’s town. The Local Law still got a major task on its hands, though: they need to deliver Crowe to the 3:10 train going to the Yuma from another town, a few days’ ride away. The lure of money attracts certain characters to escort Crowe, including the guy that burnt Bale’s barn. And, for that matter, including the totally desperate for cash Bale himself.
The going is tough, though: Not only do the Crowe keepers need to fend themselves from the incredibly resourceful Crowe, they need to shake Crowe’s gang that keeps on chasing them to have their leader released and they also need to shake off the dangers they bump into as they go riding about. As our heroes ride we learn more about Bale and a lot more about Crowe, and thus up until the tense finale we are left to ponder an important question – who, exactly, is the evil party here? Is Crowe really that bad, is he bad at all? Does he represent a kneejerk reaction to the abuse by those with the power and the money? Is Bale’s sticking to the law book attitude sensible?
These are all heavy questions and 3:10 to Yuma does well in their dissection, aided very well by its stars’ acting skills. I like Bale, but it’s Crowe that really shines here, reminding me again why his performance in The Insider is the best demonstration of good acting I recall.
The brilliance of 3:10 is that the question it raises are not just philosophical, they are very much relevant, too. Take, for example, the matter of illegal music downloads: On one side you have the record companies, that go out of their way to teach everyone that this downloading is illegal; on the other hand we have the general public, the vast majority of it downloads stuff (at least the vast majority of those who know how to do it). Is the public evil, or are the record companies the real villain here with their control over the music? And what about those that don’t download music because its officially illegal – are they everyone’s suckers, Bale style?
Alternatively, look at this world’s current financial crisis. It was caused by the greed of those on top with the power, but in order to address it the simple tax payer is required to open their wallets wide. I don’t know about you, but I would definitely love to see some Crowe style Yuma justice executed on those bastards.
Dramatic scene: Crowe’s gang arrives at the town where Crowe is held and it looks like an even fight is due. Then they offer $200 for every kill of one of Crowe’s guardians, changing the numbers on each side drastically. Bale is the only one left on the side of good, setting the scene for a potential High Noon.
Overall: It’s been a while since I have seen a new release as good as 3:10, and it has been a pleasure indeed. 4 out of 5 stars.

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