I agree with Steve Barnes in enough areas, and we like enough of the same movies, that I was very excited about 3:10 to Yuma. Saw it tonight, and it's a first-rate work. Steve's take is that it's the best western since The Outlaw Josie Wales. I just got back from it, and unlike Bourne Ultimatum, which I saw twice, once is going to be enough for this one.
It's a really good movie. Russell Crowe's likely to pick up an Oscar nomination, and so's Christian Bale. A supporting nod for Peter Fonda wouldn't surprise me a bit. Nor would one for Ben Foster, who's absolutely mesmerizing in the role of Crowe's sidekick and faithful dog.
OK, four performances, all first rate or better. (And the various supporting performances, though not as impressive, hit the right notes and never detract.) The skeleton of the story is that Bale's character, Dan Evans, has to take Crowe's character, the charismatic murderer Ben Wade, to the city of Contention, where Wade will be put on the 3:10 train to Yuma -- to stand trial and be hung.
The first 90% of the movie is among the best Westerns ever made, and over the years I've seen most of the great ones, so I speak with some familiarity on the subject matter. Bale gives one of the finest and most nuanced performances I've ever seen in a Western, and Crowe, gifted with the gaudier role, underplays relentlessly (probably a necessity, playing against Bale's stoicism) ... and still reminds you in every frame why he's a damned movie star.
Ben Wade is a relentlessly convincing bad man; there's nothing good in the guy .... until the movie's climax, when he does something decent and so thoroughly out of character it fucking near ruined that movie for me.
If you haven't seen it yet, and this is your sort of material, it's absolutely worth seeing once. And maybe the payoff will work for you. It didn't for me. A resolution that depends on a hidden core of decency in Ben Wade -- after the movie's gone to substantial and convincing length to show us the man's rotten core -- was a miscalculation. Wade needed some hint of character we're never given, or the movie needed a different ending.
Consistently the movies I like, Steve Barnes likes, and I admire that about him. But in the post I linked above, he spoke poorly of Unforgiven....
The greatest Westerns are Shane, Unforgiven, and Lonesome Dove. It'd take an essay on my part to adequately say why I think this, and why other movies such as Red River or The Searchers don't make the cut -- and it's all just opinion, end of day, mine or Barnes's --
Barnes: Yes, I can well understand someone feeling that “Unforgiven” is better, and more recent. But there’s a rather unfortunate bit of Sacrificial Negro business that keeps me from really embracing that one…)
Obviously I can't come at a movie from Steve's perspective, and I don't know that you can be wrong in how you respond to a given piece of art -- it touches you how it touches you. But I just want to take a moment to speak well of this particular piece of art. If intent counts a lick, this is a movie that end to end has its heart in the right place. It's a violent movie that shows the costs of violence. Possibly more to the point, the scene Steve refers to -- Morgan Freeman's character is whipped to death in a scene that has "lynching" written all over it -- was in the original script, which says not one word about the character's skin color ...
Now you're Clint Eastwood, and you want to hire Morgan Freeman to play that character. What are your options?
1. Change the script so Freeman doesn't die.
2. Don't hire him.
3. Hire him and shoot it as is ... which they did.
I respect Barnes a huge amount, and Unforgiven is easily one of the five finest movies I've ever seen. I wish he'd give it another look. I'd be curious to know how he'd have handled it, had he been directing Unforgiven ...