Saturday, September 15, 2007

3:10 to Yuma

I'm tired, Alice. I'm tired of watching my boys go hungry. I'm tired of the way that they look at me. I'm tired of the way that you don't.

One thing Cormac McCarthy fans don't expect is to see a lot of women in his novels. (I know what you're thinking: "What has Cormac McCarthy got to do with 3:10 to Yuma?" Stay with me.) Take All the Pretty Horses, for instance (the book; not the movie). There's Alejandra and the duena Alfonsa. John Grady Cole's mother is a remembered presence, but not a character. Still, for all their absence, women drive men to action, set stories in motion (it is a she-wolf after all, that launches Billy across the border in The Crossing) and a girl that draws his younger brother irredeemably away. But in novels filled with men, doing "manly things," women have incidental, enabling presences, but beyond the duena, few have significant speaking roles.

I couldn't help but notice that this movie was much the same. The two leads, protagonist and antagonist, Dan Evans (Christian Bale) and Ben Wade (Russell Crowe), each owe finding themselves where they are in this movie to women. Ben lingers, unwisely, to make love to (one assumes) and then sketch Emmy Nelson (Vinessa Shaw). Her only role is as foil, to show us Ben's more tender and winning side, and then having lingered with her, he's captured, and she's gone. Nor do we notice her absence.

Dan is driven to his role as escort, ostensibly by an immediate need for money after a bad season has left him in debt and about to lose the ranch, but more profoundly by the quote that opens this post. It echoed in my mind throughout the rest of the movie. A man will only risk so much for money. But Dan believes he has already lost the most important things, the respect of his sons, the admiration of his wife. If he succeeds in this undertaking, he may earn enough money to save the ranch, but more importantly, he will win back those other things, without which, neither ranch nor life itself are worth drawing another day's breath.

I'll say no more about the plot, except that there are serious questions asked about the lines between good and evil, and one particular speech from Wade that might have come from Judge Holden himself, on the nature of man and moral law. Anyone who has read McCarthy's Blood Meridian, won't be able not to notice the echoes here. I've not seen the 1957 film (with Glenn Ford as Wade) nor read the original Elmore Leonard short story on which both films were based, but I will see the one and read the other. Influence interests me. And without having read Leonard's story nor seen the earlier film, it's impossible to know whether the story or film influenced McCarthy, or McCarthy influenced the modern screenwriters. But it is safe to say that those behind the making of the new film are well aware of McCarthy--the following little blurb is from the release notes in the Wikipedia entry on the new film:

3:10 to Yuma was originally slated for an October 5, 2007 release, but Lionsgate moved the film's release a month earlier to September 7, 2007 to beat competing Western filmsThe Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and No Country for Old Men.

I will be counting down the days to the release of No Country for Old Men. (There is a trailer available at the web site.)

Bottom line: see 3:10 to Yuma. It's well paced, well acted (I've never been a Peter Fonda fan, but this film could change my mind about even that), and well directed. Sure, there's a loose end or two, but it works nonetheless. A-/B+ at least.