Release date: Sept. 7 Distributor: Lionsgate
In the Academy’s 79 years of doling out statuettes, only three Westerns have won the Oscar for best picture: the practically ancient “Cimarron” (1931), the Civil War-era “Dances With Wolves” (1990) and “Unforgiven” (1992), which cemented Clint Eastwood’s reputation as a serious filmmaker. One must assume that the Academy considers the form as more of an “entertainment” than a platform for social commentary. But in the tradition of such films as “Shane,” “High Noon” and “The Wild Bunch,” “3:10 to Yuma” boasts both attributes.
A sprawling, more violent update of the 1957 film that starred Glenn Ford, “3:10 to Yuma” prompted Time’s Richard Schickel to ask: “Who says remakes are always inferior to the original film? And who says the Western is dead? Especially when a movie is as entertaining as this one.”
“Entertaining” is the key word here, even more so when juxtaposed with the deconstructionist, melancholy meditation that is “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.” “Yuma” helmer James Mangold (“Walk the Line”) makes sure the form’s more exciting elements are all in place: large-scale action, stunning vistas, colorful characters and lots of gunplay.
There’s also internal conflict regarding honor and heroism, and the kind of moral ambiguity applied to the good guys and bad that adds complexity. The Boston Globe called the two leads, Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, “among the best, most intuitively creative we have,” with the New Yorker’s David Denby going so far as to label Crowe “an acting genius.” But almost equal praise has been showered on supporting players Peter Fonda and Ben Foster.
Costume designer Arianne Phillips, who was Oscar nominated for her last pic with Mangold, “Walk the Line,” takes a classic approach with duds that are both ruggedly sexy and seemingly authentic. And cinematographer Phedon Papamichael is equally adept with eye-popping exteriors and intimate encounters.