Friday, September 14, 2007

Bale Out a Dying Genre: Thoughts on 3:10 to Yuma (Part I)

The Western had its heyday, in the 1950s during the era of “The Duke” himself, John Wayne. But since those days the Western as a popular genre has faded. Every once in a while there’s a new cowboy movie made, they are frequently, however, not very good. So, for example, we all remember the waste that is City Slickers and City Slickers II, and we all remember the nonsense that is Will Smith’s Wild, Wild, West. So needless to say that when I saw that new western was going to be coming out this fall I was hesitant. After all the original 3:10 to Yuma came in the midst of the Western’s pinnacle (1957), how could this new version compete? I am happy to report that I was more than just pleasantly surprised by the 2007 remake.

3:10 to Yuma is not only one of the best Westerns I have ever seen (and I’ve seen a lot), but it may be the best movie of the year (at least to date). Christian Bale’s portrayal of the wounded soldier turned struggling farmer is outstanding, and Russell Crowe’s disturbing and emotionally complex villain is among the best villains in recent film history. Beyond the acting the plot is so well crafted and seamless that the story flows like a cool west wind on rolling countryside. Where the scenes are meant to be intense, they are, and where the dialogue is intended to convey meaningful narration or back story it does. But for me it is more than just the standard cinematic elements that make this film so worth watching.

There are hundreds of movies that are crafted well and possess good acting and storytelling. There are even hundreds of good Westerns, mostly from the old era of the mid 50s. No, it is not these elements that compelled me to see 3:10 to Yuma twice. It is the message of bravery that I finally came to love.

Originally I had a bit of difficulty bringing my own conclusions to 3:10 to Yuma, there was something to the story, particularly the end of the film, that both made me disappointed and intrigued. This fact alone is enough to hail the movie as worth seeing, for few films leave me torn on my opinion of it, and it is no small feat for a film to have a so thoroughly well crafted plot as to render me stunned. But in the end it was the message of bravery that has drawn me into the praise of the movie. Everyone knows about the “brave” action hero who saves the day, and demonstrates fearlessness in the face of insurmountable odds (i.e. John McClane, Aragorn, Jason Bourne, etc.). In 3:10 to Yuma, however, we see more clearly what bravery is. Bravery has more to do with forging ahead in the midst of fear, and even less to do with the results. While action movies repeatedly suggest this they almost always undermine it in the major and final action sequence where the hero fearlessly saves the day. But Dan Evans (Christian Bale), and Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) bring the dynamic nature of bravery to a new level in this film. This is a movie about the every day man’s bravery, something that we can all appreciate and something Christians can particularly appreciate.

God calls men to be brave regardless of the circumstances and regardless of the results. He no where guarantees victory in every day battles, just as the martyrs of the early church or the Chinese Christians suffering in prison today. But God also honors men who in the midst of fear and desperation pray for His strength and persevere to do justice, show mercy, and “save the day” (whatever that looks like in our specific contexts). 3:10 to Yuma is not a Christian film, nor was it meant to convey Christian themes (as best I can tell), but just as God uses non-Christians to teach His people Biblical truths (see the how God uses pagan nations to teach Israel in the Old Testament prophetic books), so God can use films like this one to teach the real truth about bravery. Where 3:10 to Yuma stands apart is in representing true bravery in the midst of the glorified action hero of the modern and even past cinema. The brave man is the man who doesn’t always win, isn’t always self-sufficient, and doesn’t always show fearlessness, but does the right thing anyways.

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Blogger Benjamin said...

Hey Dave,

Good job articulating a perspective we had to talk you into! This is a really good review and it sums up many of my feelings quite well. I think the oddity of the movie comes because you have this articulate, sophisticated, charismatic villian who can become vicious and heartless in an instant juxtaposed with a dirty, uncertain, desperate rancher. They don't seem to "fit" together... but then, since when in real life do personalities necessarily "fit"? Though there is a bit of parrallelism, it's not as if they use the classic approach of having two men who "could be each other if circumstances were different." Instead, it's two very different people who are thrown together by circumstance.

Glad you enjoyed the film! Thanks again for the review.

2:34 PM  

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