It’s too early to get into James Mangold‘s 3:10 to Yuma (Lionsgate, 9.7) which has a lot of good things going for it and will probably, I’m guessing, be widely liked, but if this film was an interactive video game with plastic pistols, I would have spent my whole time firing at Ben Foster‘s nutball bad guy. I wanted him dead — morte — as soon as he came on-screen. I almost mean Foster himself rather than the villain he plays.
Okay, that’s putting a bit harshly. Foster is “good” as Russell Crowe‘s loyal lieutenant — intense, commanding, colorful — but I hated his performance as much as his $850 Nudies-on-Lankershim leather jacket and all the Hollywood gunk he has caked all over his face at the end. I despised Foster’s performance even more than Joseph Gordon Levitt‘s in The Lookout, and that’s saying something.
Warning: a spoiler than means absolutely nothing follows two graphs from now.
Foster is totally actor-ish and post-modern diseased in ths film. He’s delivering one of those performances that say “look at me, Hollywood — I bring a charismatic evil-ness and a 21st Century loony-tunes intensity to my parts every time.” That is, unless he’s playing Angel in the X-Men movies or doing a quality TV thing in Six Feet Under, in which case he may be into something else. But that won’t happen for a while because Foster has become Hollywood’s go-to guy for parts Michael Madsen was playing ten years ago.
To deliver a classic lunatic performance you have to out-nutbag previous movie wackos, and one way to do this (ask the ghosts of John Ford or Budd Boet- ticher or Howard Hawks for advice) is to burn a guy alive inside a flaming stagecoach. And Foster manages this feat (the performance, not the burning) with just two expressions — his frozen-eyed Alpha Dog wacko look, and a slightly calmer version of same in which he seems to be thinking about turning wacko in about two or three minutes.
An awful lot of people get drilled in 3:10 to Yuma. I’ll bet more people die in this film than all the guys killed in all the dime western novels ever written by Elmore Leonard, Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey combined, and frankly I got a little tired of this after a while. But I kept wishing that Mangold would kill Foster’s psycho. Kill him for those ice-blue eyes, for that hat he wears, for those buttons on the back of his leather coat. Mangold is good at killing other guys you want to see die, but he lets Foster skate and that’s too bad.
If I saw Foster on a Los Angeles street I would smile and shake hands and act like a gentleman, but I’d give him a covert dirty look when his back is turned.