Saturday, May 10, 2008

3:10 TO YUMA (James Mangold, 2007, USA) I’m reviewing this out of context of the original to stand or fall on its own merits. It falls. A typical Hollywood Western that utilizes nearly every cliché: if you’ve seen one stagecoach robbery or gunfight then you’ve seen this film before. Christian Bale is decent enough as the “honest rancher” and Russell Crowe is violent enough as the ‘bad guy” but their conflict just isn’t believable. Bale’s rancher seems to have a strict credo concerning justice and earning an honest dollar so he follows his contract through until the very end, thus earning the grudging respect of his nemesis Ben Wade. My suspension of disbelief has just been suspended…or disbelieved. Dan Evans wants to earn his $200 bucks honestly so he sacrifices his life (because he knew what he was up against) and leaves his family to suffer the never ending consequences…how’s that for Western morality! Now Ben Wade understands the shallow complexity of Evan’s character and guns down his own men for killing him. Why didn’t he just order his gang not to shoot, let Evans escort him to the train, and escape at a later time? That way, the “moral puzzle” is solved because the rancher’s integrity is never questioned and Wade has his chance to escape. I suppose Hollywood Westerns have to end with a spectacular (read: craptacular) shoot em’ up. It was also silly that his gang just shoots wildly as he and Evans run towards the train station never thinking that a stray bullet or ricochet could kill their boss. What happened to their sniper? Anyway, I’ve already wasted too much time with this humdrum boilerplate derivative movie. Oh, Peter Fonda was pretty cool. (C-)
ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD (Andrew Dominik, 2007, USA) If the title gives the ending away then you must have failed History…or never had much interest in the subject. I love a good revisionist western that doesn’t rely on the standard narrative tricks of the genre but this one falls short of the Leone, Peckinpah, Eastwood, and Altman classics. Director Andrew Dominik delivers an art film masquerading as a Western; a deep character study of the outlaw, his cohorts, and the circumstances behind his execution. A worthy and ambitious project echoing the legendary directors previously mentioned but this film is a bit boring and drawn out. The problem begins in the first few minutes when James is described as having a “granular eye condition that causes him to blink many times” and a close-up of Pitt shows him staring into the sky…he never blinks the entire movie. And speaking of Brad Pitt, his performance isn’t terrible but it’s what you would expect from him…rather straight-down-the-middle and mundane. What could Chris Cooper have done in the role? I guess good actors don’t sell tickets or get financing for decent films anymore. Sam Rockwell and Casey Affleck both are rock solid as the Ford brothers and it’s their performances that keep this film interesting. I also like the “vintage” cinematography awash in golden hues and cloudy daguerreotype enhancements; it’s like looking at the past through cataract-ridden eyes. The Nick Cave score is excellent and contributes to the tension and anxiety of the characters; he even has a surprise cameo. I believe that film students will admire this film much more than the mainstream audiences. (C+)

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