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Fun Joel's Screenwriting Blog

(OR EL DUDERINO IF YOU'RE NOT INTO THE WHOLE BREVITY THING)

-- On Screenwriting and Related Topics

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Location: Los Angeles, CA

I moved from NYC to LA in October, 2003. And though I still think NYC is the greatest city in the world, I'm truly loving life here in the City of Angels. I'm a writer, reader, and occasional picture-taker.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Movie Review: 3:10 to Yuma

I went to see 3:10 to Yuma last night, and I'll admit it -- I was disappointed. Yes, I know it finished number 1 in the box office (though it didn't do gangbusters business), and I had high hopes for it. But ultimately I felt the movie failed because it was simply unbelievable, even within its own context. I've previously discussed two other westerns that I really like -- Unforgiven and The Proposition. In my book, 3:10 to Yuma doesn't even hold a candle to those.

Spoiler Alert!

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!

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11 Comments:

Blogger E.C. Henry said...

Thanks for your review of "3:10 to Yuma," Funjoel. I value your opinion. You've pushed me to side of waiting to see it on DVD release, rather then see it at the movies.

Unlike you, I am a HUGE fan of Russell Crowe, and I'm warming up to Chistian Bale after the STELLAR work he put in "The Presige," which I LOVED the first time I saw, but then with the family I saw it again and when when one else liked it my opinion of it dropped a little.

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

3:44 AM  
Blogger The Moviequill said...

we are expected to suspend our disbelief after the lights fade in the theatre, but if a film makes you forget that notion, then maybe there is a flaw somewhere... for me that was with the last Die Hard installment

3:52 PM  
Blogger Nicklaus Louis said...

Joel,

I started writing my thoughts on what I felt was a pretty darn good ending (that would be the one you hate), but it got too long for a simple comment and it turned into a blog post:

My Take On The Ending Of "3:10 To Yuma"

5:04 AM  
Blogger James Moen said...

Since Nicklaus pointed out most of it, I'll just cover the one problem Fun Joel says he still has with the movie and that is that Wade regrets his way of life.

Which is simple. Wade doesn't regret his way of life. He robs from bad people. He kills his gang, also bad people. The people that he kills on the road, all bad people.

Wade was born poor and was left at a train station. He learned how to survive in a dangerous world. He isn't really good or bad. He just feels justified in what he does do in his own eyes.

Wade kills his gang simply because he liked Evans more then he liked them. He saw honor in Evans, even admired him like he did the bird at the beginning. When he sees Evan cut down after trying so hard to help him succeed... Well, I expected it.

The gang really wasn't important to Wade. First time we see the gang Wade kills one member for a minor screw up. He probably had many gangs before them. This was his third time going to Yuma. If they knew he escaped the other two times would they really be gunning that hard?

Getting on the train was the weak spot because it didn't involve any jeopardy on Wade's part. He'll escape. But the story wasn't about him. The story was about Evan and his relationship with his family.

6:39 AM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Okay, James. An interesting point as well. (And btw, you should all read Niklaus' post, and I responded on his blog with my opinions there as well.)

But I'm not sure I buy all of what you're saying. He robs from bad people and kills bad people on the road? What makes the people he robs and kills at the beginning bad? They are bringing payroll money to Bisbee. That's bad?

Still, there is no doubt about the respect he feels for Evans, and I guess the shooting his own gang in anger feels right, even if intellectually I don't buy it.

7:07 AM  
Blogger Joshua said...

Joel, I love ya but I couldn't disagree with you MORE.

I loved it, it may have been one of the best films I've seen this year, right up there with UNFORGIVEN (I need to see Yuma a few more times first, but that's kind of how it feels) and the script is what made it work.

I'd echo what James said, in fact, he got there first, but that's exactly my take on it, that's why it's clear what Wade does (remember, he doesn't kill Fonda, who he kind of likes, until Fonda makes a crack about his momma) . . . Wade only wants to live for his own rules, his own self. He's a socio-path, true, and that makes it all the more reason why he'd kill his own gang if they displeased him.

As far as getting on the train, Wade made it clear he'd been to Yuma twice and escaped both times. He had to get on the train in order to fulfill Bale's promise.

That became important to him, he admired Bale, in the end . . . I don't think he'd do it if it meant certain death, but he doesn't believe it does. He's definitely someone not afraid of risks (the whole reason he got caught in the first place) to sustain his own aesthetic.

Great movie. I need to watch it again, but great film and a great script, just loved it.

4:57 PM  
Anonymous Bryan said...

There is one additional point that I think bears mentioning.

The entire sequence ending in Wade getting on the train symbolizes - as has been discussed - his redemption.

That it takes place at the train station is of the most significance however, because that is where his mother left him as a child.

Getting caught and being brought to the train station almost seems like his way of coming home.

Brilliant acting.

Great discussion and blog link.

5:22 AM  
Anonymous John Umana said...

You may be right that the climax is not believable. In fact, I�d go further and say it�s entirely impossible. But the fact that Christopher Bale and Russell Crowe and the rest of the extraordinary cast ( I really liked Gretchen Mol, Dallas Roberts and Ben Foster) make us believe that it IS real, attests to their enormous acting skills. The entire cast was just magnificent. Forget about how plausible the script was. Now was that really Easy Rider Peter Fonda as McElroy? The point that should be remembered is that this is a movie about moral redemption and less so about getting a prisoner on the 3:10 to Yuma. What made Ben Wade come to feel affection for Dan Evans, this sorry one-legged rancher, to the point of gunning down his own gang after Wade�s lieutenant, gunslinger Prince, shot Evans dead against the train? Earlier back in the town, the rancher�s son pleaded with Wade to call off his gang: �Call �em off! Wade: Why should I? William: �Because you�re not all bad!� �Yes I am.� That�s the question, after all. That�s what this film is about.

10:39 PM  
Anonymous John Umana said...

Sorry, meant Christian Bale.

4:30 PM  
Blogger MaxSamuel79 said...

Fun Joel, so random! I just watched 3:10 tonight (I even remembered you telling me that you had seen it a while back) and I thought I had missed something when it ended all fuzzy and ridiculous. So I came online for some answers and your site came up. That is pretty random. While I did think the ending was not realistic, and there was a plot hole or two in the film, it was still a pretty cool movie even though still disappointing.

Thanks for the great review. You rock Fun Joel.

All the best,

Max L (we party together sometimes in the Pico Robertson community) Random!!!

11:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a writer you should understand a simple ending like this one! Ergo, your writing must suck!

3:44 AM  

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