Movie Review: 3:10 to Yuma
Truth is, there were some good moments in Yuma, and it wasn't like the film sucked or anything. A number of good action scenes, some decent acting (with at least one very good performance), and a few good reversals in the plot. I'm not a huge fan of either Christian Bale or Russell Crowe in general. I don't hate either of them, but both are the kind of actors that I can take or leave. In this case, I actually felt both were perfectly serviceable in their roles (I didn't think either was great, both no problems there, from my perspective). And I thought Ben Foster's performance as Crowe's right hand man was quite a unique take on a role that could have been cliched.
To me, the main problem lies in the film's script (by Halsted Welles and Michael Brandt & Derek Haas, from a short story by Elmore Leonard). In it I see two main weaknesses, one of which removes the film from the category of great, and the other which lowers it to the category of flawed.
In general, the Western film is a genre of parable. More than many other genres, films in this genre typically are deeply steeped in material that is used to deliver a subtle message of sorts. In order to effectively achieve this, you need a strong theme that ties everything together. Yuma definitely had some elements of theme, but I felt the various pieces were not tied together cohesively enough, in that not everything was tied to theme, or at least not effectively enough. We have some bits that deal with earning respect, maintaining a sense of honor, saving face, good and evil, pragmatism vs. right, etc.
Still, these bits are not so disconnected from each other as to make for a truly muddled film. It is just disparate enough to say that Yuma would probably not be considered among the great films of the western genre. It is the other script weakness that I feel is more problematic. (And here's where the serious spoilers come in). The climax is simply not believable in my book. The fact that Wade (Crowe) would help Evans (Bale) get him to the train is difficult to believe, but acceptable. Hell, Evans could just kill him if he had to. But to then believe that Wade would kill his own men after they shoot Evans, and that he would then willfully get onto the train taking him to prison at Yuma is silly. To go a step further, and say that he would stop choking Evans and have his transformative moment when Evans tells him how he couldn't bear to tell his son the embarrassing truth about how he lost his leg? Now we're bordering on the patently ridiculous.
I mentioned this to my friend who I saw the movie with, and he said I was "overanalyzing things." And I thought about that comment, but disagree. I went into the film wanting to like it. That means that I was starting from a status quo on the positive side of the opinion scale. For me to feel that way coming out means that they did something specific that lost me. I was not watching the films with critiquing eyes. Only after I began to feel gypped did I start to think about why I was feeling that way.
Then I discussed it with my roommate, who had seen it on Saturday night and loved it. His take on it was that Wade wanted money, so he needed to lead a gang of assholes. In order to lead this gang, he needed to be ruthless, though he actually was not a ruthless person. At least, he wasn't someone who wanted to be ruthless. So now that he has the money, he's able to kill the gang because he doesn't need them anymore and he won't be able to drop that way of life without them gone. And he gets on the train because he knows he can escape Yuma prison again, as he did twice before.
I hear that as a plausible take on the ending, but not particularly viable either. As I see it, that is a way of forcing some potentially logical explanation on the plot. To me, the main reason for this lack of believability, whichever take on the ending you want to take, is a lack of establishment. Sure, the film takes pains to show Wade as a somewhat cultured man, and one with a deeper soul than that of a purely ruthless killer. But little in the film prior to the end suggests anything about either his regrets over leading a life of ruthless killing (per my roommate's explanation of the film) or of his "heart of gold" good side that would lead to a redemptive moment of killing his men and turning himself in (even if he knew he could later escape).
So bottom line, to me I think the film focused a bit too much on style and action and too little on building character, relying instead on a bit of shorthand to explain character. Without that character development, the ending became laughable to me, thus hurting the film overall.
Anyone else see it? Agree? Disagree? Liked it? Disliked it? Chime in!
Tags: screenwriting, movie+review, 3:10+to+Yuma