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The good bad man: (l-r) Crowe and Fonda in 3:10 to Yuma.

The Western Reborn

By Laura Leon

3:10 to Yuma

Directed by James Mangold

One thing’s for certain: Director James Mangold has a jones for the great westerns of yesteryear. How else to explain the precision with which he recaptures familiar sounds like the jingling hardware of racing horses, the jangle of their riders’ spurs and buckles, the iron screech of a slowing train, the foreboding hollowness of worn boots on wooden sidewalks? Who else could have re-created so perfectly the concomitant terror and cool factor of a six-shooter, or the man handling it? If anything, however, Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma, a retelling of the classic 1950s Delmer Daves movie (based on an Elmore Leonard story), does more than pay homage to a genre. It breathes new life in it, bringing it up to date with our faster-paced expectations while still retaining the patina of tradition, stock characters and legend. Like its predecessor, and yet for entirely new reasons, this 3:10 deserves to be in the pantheon of great westerns.

Outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) has just robbed his 21st stagecoach when we first encounter him, but rather than brandishing a pistol, he’s quietly sketching a desert bird, immediately establishing the first of many dichotomies of his personality. While his gang, which includes the dashing and dastardly Charlie Prince (a scene- stealing Ben Foster), is going after stagecoach no. 22, they come across a downtrodden rancher, Dan Evans (Christian Bale), out collecting the cattle that a hard-driving landowner has scattered in a bullying attempt to drive the Evanses off potentially valuable railroad property. Dan’s older son Will (Logan Lerman) is clearly impressed by Wade’s ruthlessness, as it’s so in contrast to his father’s dour impotence. Wade spares the Evans men, who end up taking wounded bounty hunter Byron McElroy (Peter Fonda) back to town. While there, Wade gets arrested, and Dan, hard up for money to pay his creditors, leaps at the chance to earn $200 as part of the party entrusted to get the killer all the way to the town of Contention in order to make the 3:10 train to Yuma for trial.

While keeping the pace pumping (again, perhaps a necessary nod to today’s fidgety audiences), Mangold never loses sight of the essential conflict, which is the psychological chess game going on between Ben and Dan. Throughout the movie, Ben offers Dan the chance for freedom, safety and a tidy sum besides, but even as the ever-increasing specter of death looms over him, Dan refuses. There are times when Ben seems downright likeable, and his reasoning, particularly with respect to the inherent similarity between what he does and McElroy’s job, contains disturbing truths. Crowe inhabits this role with such gusto and soul that it’s the first time I’ve seen him in years when I have been able to forget L.A. Confidential’s Bud White.

The grim counterpoint to this dandy gunslinger is Bale’s Dan, whom we first encounter stumbling on his one foot out of his house in a vain pursuit against the men who are burning down his barn. Unable to get a shot off, or to retrieve valuable feed, he lays in the dirt while his wife Alice (Gretchen Mol) and Will look on in futility and disgust. When Alice attempts to turn Dan off to the idea of helping bring Wade to the train, reassuring him that nobody will think the less of him, he counters coldly by saying, “Nobody can think less of me.”

As the movie progresses, Dan becomes less a victim than a complex repository of reason, determination and ability. Mirroring the ever-shifting power paradigm between killer and guard is Will, whose blanket admiration of the killer evolves into something much more disturbing, a mix of like and contempt, as he gains new insights into the father he once accused of cowardice and ineptitude. Young Lerman is a real find in a role that has been greatly enhanced from the Daves original, and it helps that his face retains some little-boy youthfulness, an oddly jarring yet believable counterpoint to his adolescent surliness. Also memorable is Foster, who imbues his psycho killer Prince with the same underlying homeoerotic tendencies that have sparked such classics as Red River. The mere sight of this character, cocksure in his double-breasted leather jacket, is as graceful as it is menacing.

An ongoing theme throughout 3:10 is the seesawing concept of good and evil and how it relates to money. The railroad man is always paying people to do work, which may include killing, that will ensure the success of the railroad. The bounty hunter is paid to bring people in. Dan was paid $200 by the government not, as he explains, for the loss of his leg, but to allow the government to walk away. Dan himself, early in the movie, accepts Ben’s compensation for his time, but refuses to take his bribes. At one point, Charlie Prince offers willing parties $200 each to blow away anybody involved with getting Ben on the train.

The movie’s grand finale is a wild rollercoaster, but again, Mangold and his stars never lose sight of the human element, despite all the shattering wood and exploding barrels. As the two antagonists make potentially life-ending decisions, the meanings of life, character, heroism, morality and justice are reexamined. A stunning last act, which as a fellow reviewer observed could only have been played so aptly by Crowe, shatters all of those preconceptions, leaving us to pick up the remaining pieces and re-sort them into what we now know of the universe. 3:10 to Yuma is rooted equally in the hard facts of our country’s development and the mythic legends of that history, and its ability to evoke such disparate realities is nothing short of brilliant.

Guns ’n Babies

Shoot ’Em Up

Directed by Michael Davis

A gleefully malicious crime drama with a taste for depravity probably acquired from Sin City, Shoot ’Em Up is turbocharged by the cinematography of Peter Pau, who won an Oscar for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. But don’t expect any ephemeral wirework; for writer-director Michael Davis’ lewd-and-crude screenplay, Pau’s action choreography is more similar to that of his Hong Kong brethren, John Woo—only slicker. Which is in keeping with the dialogue: Davis has a snide wisecrack or silly zinger for every rollover in the barreling plot.

The opening sequence is a jaw-dropper, and it doesn’t slow down from there. A lone man on a bench, known only as Mr. Smith (Clive Owen), reluctantly helps a pregnant woman who is attacked by a thug. Knocked down in an alley, the woman pulls a gun and kills her attacker, inducing labor. Smith assists in her baby’s birth while holding off—with spectacular brio—an onslaught of gunmen. By the end of this absurdly extended yet rapid-fire shootout, Smith and the baby are on the run from a phalanx of hit men in the employ of a nefarious Mr. Hertz (Paul Giamatti), who has mysterious connections beyond the criminal underworld. In desperate need of a wet nurse, Smith forcibly recruits a prostitute from his past (Monica Bellucci), who bonds with the baby. Her first maternal instinct is to perform a blowjob for money to buy a bulletproof vest to use as a baby blanket.

Though the action is lowdown and dirty, it’s also funny; some of the most amusing visuals come from Smith’s gymnastic coddling of the baby while engaged in ludicrous martial artistry to fend off a nonstop barrage of gangsters (“I’m a British nanny and I’m dangerous,” he taunts one attacker). The plot eventually reveals Smith’s and Hertz’s respective special training, and why Hertz wants the baby at any cost, but the X Files-style narrative is incidental to the high- voltage choreography, soundtracking, and art direction. Owen is magnetic as usual, and the ever-versatile Giamatti is convincing as a disgusting dirtbag.

The double dealings and strings of corruption go on for too long, as they tend to do in these post-Kill Bill movies, but Shoot ’Em Up is true to its title, providing a rush of cinematic excitement on a par with huffing super-premium gasoline.

—Ann Morrow

Cecil B. Demented

The Ten

Directed by David Wain

While the sketches featured in director-writer David Wain and writer Ken Marino’s The Ten do, as advertised, correspond with the Judeo-Christian lord’s commandments, moviegoers can be assured that they are in no danger of gleaning the slightest theological insight from the picture. In fact, audience members who ascribe to Judeo-Christian beliefs might be led astray. They may get a few chuckles, however.

Paul Rudd is host Jeff Reigert. He introduces each segment while taking part in a running gag about his angry wife (Famke Janssen) and his frisky younger mistress (Jessica Alba). One would be forgiven for thinking that the entire reason Rudd took the part is the chance to make out with Janssen and Alba, but he—and they—are quite funny. (Best Alba line: “I want a pony!”)

Some of the episodes are quite funny. Some fall absolutely flat. Others are just mildly amusing, memorable only for some great performances by the likes of Liev Schreiber, Kerri Kenney-Silver (Reno: 911) and Oliver Platt. It all depends on how one feels about the degree of humor inherent in botched surgery, prison rape and naked straight men dancing to the smooth soul sounds of Roberta Flack.

I enjoyed the bit about the idiot (Adam Brody) who jumps from a plane sans parachute and ends up permanently embedded in the ground—much to the chagrin of his fiancée (a wonderful Winona Ryder), who, in an equally entertaining subsequent episode, becomes sexually obsessed with a ventriloquist’s dummy. And Justin Theroux is hilarious as Jesus H. Christ, a Mexican handyman and the son of God, who has a torrid affair with a virginal librarian (Gretchen Mol).

But that’s it: I really liked just three of The Ten’s stories. Pretty good for a batting average, not so much for a screen comedy. I’m pretty sure that the Lord would not approve.

—Shawn Stone

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