Wednesday, September 05, 2007

September 5, 2007
Halfway through the screening last night, I had to fight the urge to call our printer in Kansas City and say, "Stop the presses! We have the wrong headline on the cover!"

Kathy and I were seated, a la royalty, in the front and center prime row, at the Arrowhead Harkin's Theatre, to see an advance screening of the new Western 3:10 To Yuma. The advance buzz on this movie has been quite good with rave reviews in the trades with some even calling it a "critic's darling."

The PR person ushered us past security (camera phones are a big no no), and once inside, he showered us with posters and t-shirts (with the word "Yuma" morphed from "Puma" and a silhouette of Russell Crowe shooting) as we sat waiting for the film to start. I imagined the patrons behind us looking down and grumbling, "Who are those a--holes?" which is exactly what I would have said if I was sitting back there.

The movie opens really strong as an armored stagecoach complete with a Gatling gun (War Wagon anyone?) takes on a large gang of outlaws. In fact, the action sequences, which have been criticized by some reviewers, were my favorite parts. 3:10 employs all those ricochet sounds pioneered by Saving Private Ryan, so we get bullets deflected by metal, wood and human bodies. If you're old enough to remember, in the old-time Westerns (1950s and 60s) ricochets had maybe two different sounds (Kheee-yowww!) all apparently provided by one house—Ryder Sound.

Russell Crowe and Christian Bale are excellent, but then all of the actors are quite good. Not a misfire in the entire cast. On the way to the movie I had a phone conversation with my 27-year-old daughter that went, in part, like this: "We're on our way to a sneak of 3:10. . .what do you mean why didn't I tell you?. . .it's a Western Deena Bean, and you don't like Westerns. . .remember?"

Deena's response: "Dad, any time Christian Bale and Russell Crowe are in a movie, put a big check mark next to my name."

While Crowe and Bale or good, for my money, the guy who absolutely steals the movie is Charlie Prince (Ben Foster), Wade's (Crowe's) fiercely loyal second in command. Prince has a bitchin' hat, cool, concho-studded outfit, excellent pistols (Scovills?) and a Clint Eastwood style demeaner with all of the above.

Speaking of Eastwood, the director, James Mangold, has admitted that Clint was his "north star" while he was filming, and it seemed obvious to me Unforgiven was the model, with gritty close-ups and a dark pallette all the way through. And, Peter Fonda, who plays a Pinkerton, seems to be channeling Eastwood in his mannerisms, and that's not a knock, I enjoyed his take on his character.

The hats are up and down, hit and miss, with the ubiquitous "Gus" crease in too prominent display, but the worst hats are unfortunately worn by the leads, with Crowe's Durango Pimp job being a real cringer. And, while I'm on the subject, I am so tired of the Indiana Jones hat squatting in a period Western, here worn by Christian Bale. There were other hats, though that were right on, particularly in a tunnel sequence where two of the railroad thugs wore excellent, authentic lids.

3:10 also shares many parallels to the earlier Western Seraphim Falls, with both films being shot in northern New Mexico, probably utilizing some of the same extras, outfitters and locales. And, unfortunately, both films have over-the-top, What-In-The-Hell-Were-They-Thinking? endings.

The ending in 3:10 is too clever by half and leaves the audience going, "Huh?" They tried to bookend, or foreshadow, the scene with an earlier scene, where Crowe's character offs a fellow gang member, but, still, the ending just seems forced and unsatisfying.

Which brings me back to the phone call to Kansas City. By the end of the movie, I realized our cover blurb was exactly right: "3:10 To Yuma: The Elmore Leonard Classic Jumps The Track." And, by the way, we have an interview with Elmore Leonard (his short story is the source for the 1957 Glen Ford film version and this new one) and according to our writer Henry Beck, Elmore's assistant came on the line and said Mr. Leonard will only do the interview if Henry can answer this question:

"Do Apaches attack at night?"

Henry didn't know the answer to that, but managed to schmooze his way past it. When Henry later asked me, I said, "Of course Apaches don't attack at night. Every kid who grew up on Westerns knows that."

In the new 3:10 a group of Apaches attack at night.

I sincerely hope the film does well. I admire the effort and the creativity of Mangold and crew. I just don't know if audiences can get past that lame ending.

"All's well, that ends well, at the box office."
—Old Hollywood Saying

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