Westerns and War Films: There are so many that it is difficult for either genre to impress me. I’ve sat through examples of both that people regard as the pinnacle of the genre, like The Longest Day and Platoon for War films or The Good, The Bad and The Ugly for Westerns but other than a few exceptions, they aren’t the sort of films I’d ever get excited about. I’ve had the Magnificent Seven saved on my DVR for a while now and just can’t bring myself to watch it, there is always something I’d rather watch.
Recently though, two films have changed my mind. The first being True Grit. I liked the original starring John Wayne but loved the Jeff Bridges version and at once it went to the top of my “Favourite Westerns” list. Another remake caught my eye, not because it was a western but because it starred two actors I regard very highly, Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. This was 3.10 to Yuma. I added it to my “medium” priority LoveFilm list and thought little of it.
I loved it! From beginning to end I was engrossed and really invested in the story. They key factor to its success, Russell Crowe as Ben Wade. I love a good movie villain and Ben Wade is a great movie villain. Remorseless killings, cool guns and unflinching, cold hard reserve in the face of what seems to be impending doom. Russell Crowe plays him brilliantly, being able to deliver the heartless lines and manipulative comments that makes Ben Wade so deadly, while convincingly carrying out some pretty ruthless actions too.
It also helps that Christian Bale plays the hero. Some films are made on the relationship between hero and villain and the chemistry between the actors and this is no exception. Christian Bale plays the underdog, last man standing, moral Dan Evans in such a way that you want him to succeed. You want him to get Ben Wade on the 3.10 to Yuma so when the odds are stacked against him, you feel for the characters. With Christian Bale playing a hero you can root for and Crowe playing the villain you want to see hanged, this film uses the key ingredients to maximum, successful, effect.
The story of their journey to that train has enough twists, turns and a good cat and mouse feel to it that it manages to keep the film engaging. It doesn’t play as just “get this guy from point A to Point B while people stop you” but develops obstacles other than the obvious. At times it even makes you question Ben Wade as a criminal and villain so when you get the final scenes and the climax of the journey, your allegiances or the outcome you were originally rooting for, may actually have changed.
The climax, sadly, is the only part of the film stopping it from getting a perfect score. The shoot-out that makes up the last part of the film and the final attempts to get Ben Wade on to the train are so implausible and so ridiculously handled that it takes too much suspension of disbelief to work. They do a fantastic job of setting up the final act and the predicament that Dan and Ben find themselves in but almost do too good a job because how they resolve that is too far-fetched. It really disappointed me because I loved the rest of the film.
Overall, this is a perfect example of how westerns should be done. It’s not huge explosions and tense shoot-outs but a great story told with the American West as its setting. Russell Crowe steals the film as the brilliantly dark villain but Christian Bale clearly holds his own too. If you can overlook the slightly silly ending, you’ll find yourself with a brilliant film.
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)