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Location: New York, New York, United States

Sunday, September 16, 2007

3:10 to Yuma

I thought James Mangold’s last movie, Walk the Line, was the best American movie (and best non-documentary from any country) of 2005. Even with a by-the-numbers, fairly ordinary script in a tired genre (showbiz bio), it had the mythic power of a folk tale, anchored by two extraordinary performances. Mangold’s visual style was hard to pin down, but there was some sort of alchemy between the director, the performers, and the material that resulted in rare magic.

I wish I felt that way about Mangold’s new film, a remake of a 1957 western. It’s certainly vivid and suspenseful (and loud!), but in aiming for the tragic grandeur of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, seasoned with a bit of Sergio Leone’s glowering close-ups and ultraviolence, the movie is a chore to sit through. It is, in short, way too solemn, and not much fun.

The photography and editing are fine, the two lead performances by Russell Crowe and Christian Bale are first-rate, several members of the supporting cast (especially Ben Foster) are excellent. It’s by no means a terrible movie, just a disappointment. And along with Mangold’s interesting but uneven previous movies, including Girl, Interrupted, Identity, and Cop Land, it makes the achievement of Walk the Line seem more like a fluke and less like the flowering of an important talent. He’s admirably willing to take on genre and melodrama and to try to make them fresh and new. I look forward to seeing what he’ll do next.

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