There was no movie of 2007 more overvalued than "3:10 to Yuma," a carelessly made Western starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale that somehow received acclaim in a year of many worthwhile films. Roger Ebert, in his column for the Chicago Sun-Times, summed up the positive criticism by writing that it "restores the wounded heart of the Western and rescues it from the morass of pointless violence." What he meant by the first half of his comment is obscure. But from what I can tell, the rescuers behind "Yuma" (director James Mangold and a trio of writers) fell into the morass with their material. You need observe only the opening robbery of a stagecoach, more a morass of pointless violence than many recent Westerns.
Perched atop his lookout point, Crowe's Ben Wade, a notorious criminal (dressed in all black, the villain), sends in a platoon of horsemen to spook a stagecoach, which dutifully takes off into a rousing chase scene until the coach is upended in a cloud of dust by a mass of cattle Wade sends into its path. Cleaning up the aftermath, Wade's right-hand man (Ben Foster), a samurai-like, Zen killer, shoots a fleeing guard with barely a look (much less aim) in his direction. Then we see why he is so single-mindedly dedicated to Wade. Evidently Wade taught him that fancy twirl with his six-shooter. You know, so people can see they are real, rootin' tootin' gunslingers.
Hence the same need for Wade to gun down his own man to rescue him from a guard who pops up and takes him hostage. This is not pointless violence, obviously, but necessary interplay intended to show that Wade is not only a peerless showman, but also cold-blooded. Maybe so, but on top of being a lightning-quick, dead-eye killer, the movie makes him out to be a judicious intellectual as well. Wouldn't such a man shoot only the hostage-taker, saving himself an employee, not to mention a bullet?
Well, danged if that first part isn't the most believable and coherent of the lot. Shot through with clichés, stock characters and absurdities, the only thing "Yuma" restores to the Western is camp value. Violent? Not so much, compared with the smattering of recent cousins attempting to reimagine the genre. Pointless? Definitely. (R)