Sunday, September 9, 2007
Putting Off The Burial
It’s always been interesting to me that the last real spurt of westerns came just at the dawn of CGI—almost as if the genre was being allowed one last shot at Hollywood glory before the new wave of digital effects and AVID editing took over and it was officially buried once and for all. In the wake of 1992’s brilliant UNFORGIVEN we got such films as TOMBSTONE (not perfect, but kind of a blast), BAD GIRLS (lousy, but an awesome Jerry Goldsmith score), Sam Raimi’s THE QUICK AND THE DEAD (ok but kinda hollow) and Walter Hill’s WILD BILL (almost defiantly uncommercial and very interesting). In recent years Kevin Costner’s OPEN RANGE has been one of the few westerns to come along and I enjoyed it, almost because it had few aspirations beyond being a no-nonsense adult western. On one film discussion board I frequent there was someone who made a point to mark the one weekday in the middle of August that OPEN RANGE was the number one film in the country, as if to say, see? There are people who want to see westerns. But like noir, it seems to be a genre that in this day and age is appreciated mostly by the film buffs, which is too bad. That there hasn’t been some ultra-slick, CGI-laden western to happen yet is probably because they do terribly at the foreign box office. But it’ll still probably happen one of these days.
For now, I was able to get a great deal of enjoyment of 3:10 TO YUMA, a film that seems to have been directed by James Mangold as if it’s no big deal whatsoever that a western was being made. Which is probably the way it should be. A remake of the 1957 Delmer Daves film starring Glenn Ford (which I haven’t seen) which was based on an Elmore Leonard story (which I haven’t read) YUMA is a mostly simple story which gathers a lot of steam as it goes along, bringing out themes of what it takes to really be a man, to show true strength. Christian Bale and Russell Crowe are excellent and the strong cast also includes Ben Foster, Gretchen Mol, Alan Tudyk, Vinessa Shaw, a brief appearance by Luke Wilson and Peter Fonda who has to be one of the few real connections to old-time Hollywood present here. There’s also a minor deputy character named “Sam Fuller”.
Along with Mangold’s strong direction there are a number of FX artists listed in the end crawl and the highest compliment I can pay is that I have no idea what they did in the film. There’s really no evidence of digital futzing to be seen at all which is just fine with me. But more importantly, it’s an example that the western remains an enjoyable, potent and powerful myth in American films. More westerns are needed. The new 3:10 TO YUMA may not be on the level of UNFORGIVEN, but it’s a strong start.