I was generally pleased with James Mangold‘s 3:10 to Yuma after seeing it the first time, although I had issues and irritations here and there. Then I saw it a second time and those little gnarlies grew on me. And yet I still “liked” it well enough. It’s a moderately decent, straight-up western with a terrific second act and top-notch perfs from Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. And a popular reception seems assured with the current 87% Rotten Tomatoes rating and the 90% positive responses to last Sunday’s sneak.
In fact, there’s such a thumbs-up Yuma consensus that I now feel free to rag on it some. I’ve already mentioned Ben Foster‘s hugely annoying mad-dog villain, and I’ve griped about that ridiculous bit at the end with Crowe’s horse hearing that whistle despite the loudly chugging train engine and subsequently galloping alongside the train in order to…what? Follow the shackled Crowe all the way to Yuma prison and then graze outside the prison walls for a few weeks or months while he plots his third escape?
My other beefs (and let’s get the spoiler warning out of the way right now) are, in no particular order…
* For me, there’s no sense of actors reading lines and giving attention-seeking, strutting-around performances in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (although they were obviously working from a script or plan of some kind), but I felt assaulted — “pecked” is a better word — by actory business all though 3:10 to Yuma, including Crowe’s. (His charisma makes it work.) I just never got around the feeling that I was watching paid actors dressed in western gear and covered in makeup that makes them look as if they haven’t bathed in several weeks. Is what I’m saying analogous to David Denby‘s thought as he watched Cameron Crowe‘s Elizabethtown that he could hear film running through the projector gate? On some level, yes.
* Why give Bale’s “Dan Evans” character a wooden peg leg? It doesn’t pay off or figure significantly in the action, and there’s only one brief shot in which we’re shown a glimpse of it (i.e., after he’s been knocked to the ground during the barn-burning scene). I didn’t need it, and neither did Bale. His character is beaten-down enough at the beginning for other reasons.
* Bale looks at that locket or trinket — each time with an insert shot — at least four times during the film. (It might even be five.) Twice would have been okay. I got irritated when he did it the third time, and the fourth time was, like, “C’mon!”
* I was deeply irritated at Kevin Durand‘s “Tucker” character, and particularly Mangold’s reluctance to rein him in. At least his standard-issue sadist scumbag performance pays off when Crowe stabs him to death in the neck with a fork…yes! This is one reason I like the second act as much as I do.
* The press notes explain that Mangold had a snow issue as he shot the climactic shoot-put scene in the town of Contention. You can see snow in the distance in a few shots — sometimes blanketed, sometimes with spotty patches. And yet the streets of Contention are pure brown because Mangold made a decision to bring in truckloads of soil to make everything nice and uniform. Except snow is a lot more visually interesting than dirt. If I’d directed I would have brought in snow machines instead. A picky-ass thing to bitch about, I realize.
* Why does Crowe decide to seduce Vinessa Shaw‘s barkeep character in that early, post-stagecoach robbery scene when he knows it’s dangerous to hang around? Foster and the other gang members, who take off on their own, are obviously aware of the risk, but Crowe can’t be bothered. It just seems like a lazy and stupid thing to do. Crowe’s attitude (i.e., not his “Ben Wade” character’s) seems to be, “Well, she’s definitely pretty and receptive and I know I can nail her despite my stinky whisky breath. My confidence is based upon two factors — one, I’m Russell Crowe and two, if I don’t get caught there won’t be any story about putting me on the 3:10 to Yuma, so it’s a nice way to spend time until the lawmen get here.”
A more satisfying way to go would have been Crowe trying do her quickly, but with Shaw going cold on the idea because she’s not being treated like a lady and a seduction tension starting up between them — “It’s not like you’re not the most beautiful woman I’ve seen in these parts — you are — but the law’s on my tail and I value my freedom” — and while this is happening the law busts in anyway and grabs him. This I would have been cool with.