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Feature


Out of luck and money, rancher Dan Evans (Christian Bale) heads into Bisbee, AZ only to find himself an accomplice in the capturing of notorious outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe). Desperate for money, Evans volunteers to escort Wade to the town of Contention and stick him on the 3:10 train to Yuma prison. But Wade is a crafty prisoner, and like Hannibal Lector he worms his way into Evans’ head while whittling down the rest of his escorts. With Wade’s men only hours behind him, can Evans make it to Contention in time to catch his train?

3:10 to Yuma
The cover blub may be right, 3:10 to Yuma may be the best Western since Unforgiven, but we haven’t had a lot to chose from since Clint Eastwood’s final word on the genre swept the Oscars. From France came Blueberry, a psychedelic take on classic themes, from Spain came 800 Bullets, a post-modern reworking of the Spaghetti Westerns, from Australia came The Proposition, a grittily old fashion retelling of the themes, but none of them were as earth shattering or permanent as Unforgiven. Western themes were explored in Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man, Tommy Lee Jones' The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, and even Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, but I wouldn’t count any of these films as strictly western. So far the first and last words on Westerns in the new millennium was a television series called Deadwood, and depending on your affections, George P. Cosmatos and
Kurt Russell’s Tombstone.

But it’s 2007, Deadwood has been canceled, and we’ve got two all-star cast and critically acclaimed genre releases, 3:10 to Yuma and The Assassination of Jesse James (both released in September). I’d love to do an in depth comparison between the two, but I still haven’t seen the later. I’ll just compare it to what I know. If Unforgiven was a revisionist’s statement on the reality of the Western hero, and Deadwood was a gangland reapropriation of real life events, then 3:10 to Yuma is a classic genre tale told through modern action movie standards. This isn’t a bad thing, not every specific genre or period piece needs to be an allegory or post-modern statement on film, and it just happens that a lot of the best Westerns are one or the other.

3:10 to Yuma
An impressively staged high way robbery at the top of the first act starts things at a sprint, and there isn’t a lot of stopping the plot’s momentum once it’s rolling down the mountain. 3:10 to Yuma isn’t bursting with angst and pathos like Unforgiven, but arch can be fun when a film embraces the tropes of a genre (the last time Russell Crowe made a Western it was for Sam Raimi, who’s Quick and the Dead embraced the tropes times one hundred). Crowe revels in his arch-villain part, as Crowe is rather comfortable in larger then life roles, but he’s also a smart enough actor to effectively charm his way into a hero’s role. Christian Bale, a more method actor, doesn’t handle thin characters as well. His performance is often at slight odds with the rest of the cast, but in the end his choices are the right ones, and his ‘odd couple’ relationship with Crowe makes a lot of sense. It also makes the cornball moments easier to swallow.

Around the half way mark all my bitchin’ and moaning about lacking allegory doesn’t make a lick of difference because the ‘crackin’ yarn’ is too hard to resist. The simplicity of the story and characters become parts of a finely tuned thrill ride, and the final shoot-out/chase is just downright breathless. I’d like to say that the transparent buddy movie moments didn’t have an effect on me, but I smiled through every sappy moment. Intellectuals may want to see through the guttural thrill of manly men and whizzing bullets, but the rest of us can let go and enjoy a meticulously crafted action film.

3:10 to Yuma

Video


I’ve noticed that Lionsgate puts a lot more love into their more prestigious releases. Of the three Blu-ray releases I reviewed from the company for January, 3:10 to Yuma is the most impressive. The 1080p, 2.40:1 widescreen image is full of sharp details and crisp edges, but isn’t entirely without some problems. The transfer isn’t entirely consistent, darker scenes are grainy and loose some of the otherwise impressive detail, and unfocused backgrounds have issues with what appears to be compression noise.

Colours are magnificent, especially during daylight scenes. The overall film is baked in warm hues, except for some nighttime scenes, which are slightly blue. The film’s colour pallet is very specific, and is well represented here. Blacks, on the other hand, are never satisfactorily black. A direct comparisons reveals the same problems on the DVD release, but with generally more edge noise and detail loss.

3:10 to Yuma

Audio


Again, I can’t enjoy the uncompressed PCM 7.1 track, and I apologize. The Dolby Digital EX track is very tightly packed with gunshots, train bells, and Marco Beltrami’s pseudo-traditional score. The track’s balance is practically perfect in that even during moments of relative chaos minute details can still be effectively dissected. Dialogue is crystal clear and centered without any artificial production, and is audible even when the surround and stereo channels are bombastic. The score is warm, thick, and full of fidelity. Fans of surround effects will likely giggle with glee during the middle and last act shoot outs, which exact the effect of bullets zipping across one’s ear from all angles.

Extras


James Mangold’s commentary track is very intelligent, and it’s good to know that I read the film more or less the way it was meant to be read. He covers his aims in making the film, the original ‘57 version of the story, western fantasy pulp in general, and his influences. A few obvious influence I’m happy to hear Mangold mention are Silence of the Lambs, and Spaghetti Westerns in general (though he rarely names specific films or filmmakers). There is very little wasted space on the track, and though he’s a bit of an intellectual, Mangold doesn’t come off as a snob, though claiming that people didn’t like the movie just didn’t ‘get it’ is suspect.

3:10 to Yuma
The featurettes start with a 20 minute behind the scenes exploration entitled ‘Destination Yuma’. This featurette focuses mostly on technical aspects of the film, like the stunts, costumes, and set design. Everyone on set, even the curmudgeony Crowe, is obviously happy to be making a rock ‘em sock ‘em western. Considering 3:10 to Yuma was a medium budgeted feature (Lionsgate’s got to spend its Saw dollars somewhere) I’m sort of shocked at the sheer volume of set construction involved in the film. Apparently the dozens of existing sites in Southern Arizona weren’t quite what they were looking for.

‘Outlaws, Gangs, and Posses’ was a particularly fun little history lesson for me personally because of the focus on my hometown area of Southern Arizona, and my current home state of Minnesota. I’ve actually been to the places these bolo tied historians are talking about. The featurette sprints through Wild West history in a paltry 13 minutes, but is mighty fact filled.

‘An Epic Explored’ explores the allegorical and fantasy aspects of western films in general. The cast and crew all make intelligent statements about the genre and its history. In about 6 minutes the featurette more or less covers all the bases of entire books I’ve read on the subject. My bad.

3:10 to Yuma
‘3:10 to Score’ briefly explores Marco Beltrami’s musical score. The score is an impressive interpretation of other classic western music, specifically the definitive western sounds of Ennio Morricone. Beltrami states that he was trying to avoid emulation, but his process is very similar to Morricone’s, concerning the build of conventional and unconventional sounds, and a consistent gallop to the rhythm during onscreen action. The featurette runs about 7 minutes.

‘Sea to Shining Sea’ is a look at the Transcontinental Railroad, and its effect on America. The theme of the railroad killing the Wild West is, as stated, a common one throughout western cinema, probably the most common behind the American Civil War starting things. The specific facts of the effort and history, which run 20 minutes, are a fine edition to this surprisingly educational set of special features.

3:10 to Yuma
‘A Conversation with Elmore Leonard’ is pretty self-explanatory. I’m really not very familiar with Leonard, and I had no idea that he got his start writing pulp western shorts. Leonard did a lot of research when writing his westerns, and didn’t have much interest in other western literature, which is most likely what set him apart. In case anyone didn’t know, this is actually the second time his short story has been made into a major motion picture, but there isn’t much time for Leonard to recall the process of selling his first movie subject in the featurette’s five minutes.

‘Guns of Yuma’ briefly covers the different weapons seen in the film, and how they were chosen. Each gun was specifically picked for each character, and the actors all seem to have really taken to the firearms. It runs six minutes.

The deleted scenes are presented in widescreen with full HD video. The first two scenes deal with Wade’s crew, fleshing the faceless monsters out a bit. Later scenes fill out Crowe and Peter Fonda’s characters a little bit, and their relationship to each other. The longest deleted sequence involves Dan’s son meeting the posse on the road shortly after leaving home, which would’ve made his later appearance a little less shocking to the other characters. The scenes, which all seem to have been trimmed for pacing reasons, total seven, and run about seven minutes.

3:10 to Yuma
The interactive western timeline is what the title states, and is solid stacked with factoids, divided by year and place. A trailer and trailers for other Lionsgate releases bring an end to the disc. I couldn’t get the ‘Inside Yuma’ feature to work on my player, so I am unable to review that part of the disc.

Overall


The cover blurb is only partially accurate, it should read: ‘ 3:10 to Yuma is the best American studio produced western since Unforgiven, released before The Assassination of Jesse James, which may or may not be better’. It just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Comparing 3:10 to Yuma to Unforgiven is misleading anyway, I’d compare this rollicking shoot ‘em up to Tombstone or The Long Riders first. This is a fun and entertaining action film, and one I can see myself watching more then once. I can’t say having the disc crap out a half dozen times when loading the menu was much fun, but that’s most likely due to the shortcomings of Blu-Ray compatibility, not the disc itself.


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