Thursday, September 13, 2007

3:10 to Stupid

Okay, I have to say something about 3:10 to Yuma. I read all these glowing reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, and there are precious few new Westerns coming out, so we went to see it for the SP's birthday.

The acting is great. Really. Christian Bale is scrawny and beaten, Russel Crowe is self-possessed, charming and dangerous, and the supporting cast all fits together seamlessly.

But the things they do and the things they say are eight kinds of stupid. As the SP put it, "A whole bucket of stupid. Indiscriminately sloshed and ultimately upended."

Why exactly does Crowe's outlaw linger behind to get caught by the posse? Why does the sherrif send off two of his men as a decoy knowing they will be slaughtered by Crowe's gang--and then linger at the farmhouse through the night? Why do they let Crowe eat dinner with them at the table? Why do they not search him to make sure he is unarmed? Why isn't he in leg shackles? Or tied to the horse, or god forbid, shoved in a sack and tied across the horse? Why is Bale's character, who is supposed to be a sharpshooter, dinking around with a sawed-off shotgun? Where does he get all these guns he keeps pulling off his person in moments of crisis? Why is Peter Fonda's character, who's supposed to be an experienced tough guy, a Pinkerton gun-for-hire, stupid enough to ride within arm's reach of Crowe and get pulled off his saddle? Much less tell Crowe where they're taking him, in case he chances to get word to his gang?

All of this boils down to what I call "sacrificing character for the sake of plot." In other words, your characters are doing things that are unjustified (or inadequately justified) by their earlier behavior, just because the writer needs to keep the plot moving forward.

And we haven't even gotten to the climax yet. That's where things really start breaking down. Crowe and Bale are supposed to have developed a rapport by this time, but I couldn't see it. And I sure couldn't see why Crowe would even budge from his cozy hotel room to be walked down to the station amidst a hail of gunfire. And don't get me started about the scene with the bandits all clustered together beneath the window where the good guys were hiding out, calling for their blood, but none of the good guys thought to take the opportunity and thin the opposition. When Bale's character was supposed to be a freakin' sharpshooter. Seriously, it sucks being a good guy. You can't ever do the sensible thing.

Then, in the middle of the climactic running around, our hero and anti-hero pause to have a little heart-to-heart. And there's a line in there that's supposed to justify everything, but it doesn't. It doesn't because it's basically a non-sequitor to everything that's come before. It's a smirk, a quip. "I've escaped from Yuma prison twice already."

All of which led me to complain that Hollywood writers are so sheltered from real problems, they have no concept of how real people behave when faced with disaster and strife. I guess that's what it was. This screenplay was based off an Elmore Leonard story, and I KNOW Elmore understood what made people tick, and understood that character and plot are interdependent.

As I said above, the acting is great. And I'm inclined to think that's why the characters come off as great. But something got lost in the assembly; maybe on the cutting-room floor, because there were at least two lines in the trailer, good weighty soundbites, that didn't make it into the movie. The result is a lot of characters you really want to love, who stay with you and haunt you like a child or friend gone wrong, a soul you know you can't save from their own stupidity.

6 comments:

AJ Milne said...

It really does have the sound of a committee-generated trainwreck, doesn't it? Picturing that scene:

(SCRIPT MEETING)

OVERHYPED GURU GUY BROUGHT IN 'COS THE PRODUCER HEARD HE CO-WROTE ARMAGEDDON: Still gotta punch it up. What if we have Crowe pull him off his horse?

YES MAN: Beautiful, man.

GUY EVERYONE IGNORES: Umm... but that makes no sense. Why did he get that close?

GURU: Kid, there is no 'that makes no sense' in 'screenwriting team'

IGNORED GUY AGAIN: Which would be only the second stupidest thing I've heard in here so far.

...

(ON THE SET)

DIRECTOR: Cut! Hey, props boy, can we give Bale here somethin' scarier-lookin'? Like a shotgun or somethin'? Now that's scary. I want something we can put freakin' cannon effects under in the soundtrack. Boom, you get me? BOOM!

PROPS GUY: He's a sharpshooter.

DIRECTOR: You're fired. (To next props guy). Get him something scarier.

SECOND PROPS GUY: I'm so on it.

Holly said...

And before somebody goes all gun-nuts on me, yeah I know a shotgun can be a pretty deadly weapon, accurate, etc. I've done some skeet shooting, and though I'm no good at it, I know people who are.

Granted, also, the shortened shotgun would be a good weapon for a rancher, because it's easy to carry and wield in the saddle. That point just seemed.... incongruous to me, in the midst of everything else. The screenwriters never really took advantage of Dan's supposed prowess as a sharpshooter (REALLY wasteful plotting, guys), so I guess it doesn't matter what he was carrying.

Anonymous said...

I must concur. The story line in "3:10," is silly; implausibles pile on implausibles. The twist ending was not satisfactory from my perspective.

Maybe my eyes need testing. I thought it was a Sharps carbine that Dan was toting. If I were to look closely again,provided I could spare time and money for it, I might determine that it was a Spencer repeater.

Several eons ago, I saw the 1957 version of this on TV. I don't remember much about it. I would like to compare notes, but time may not permit it.

If I have my facts straight, this is the anniversary of your Emancipation. Have a happy.
SG

Holly said...

SG, you probably know more about long arms than I do, particularly since you're a bit of a Civil War buff. A little Google searching could probably scare up some info about what gun Dan was supposed to be carrying and whether there were bloopers involved. My husband and I both thought it was a shotgun, and from what I remember the shots during the climax looked/sounded like scatter, but I guess the could've been slugs. I was pretty disgusted with the whole thing by then.

Y'know, at one point during the "hotel room scene" I thought Dan's gun looked like an "over'n'under" model. Did they make rifles of that ilk during the 1870's?

Holly said...

Maybe we were both right, SG. On this message board, someone said:
"Bale had a Spencer.... Peter Fonda's sawed off shotgun was wicked. Some of the long guns even had Allen Conversions"

So maybe that was Fonda's shotgun I saw Bale carrying late in the movie? I could justify his having all those guns if he was carrying the dead men's arms.

But that's about all I can justify.

Anonymous said...

A Winchester repeater has as its magazine a tube which is below the barrel. At a glance, it resembles an over and under weapon.

The Spencer had its tube magazine in the stock. That was bad news if the touchy primers decided to go off at the wrong time. A faceful of splinters was the result.

I wondered why Dan cocked his rifle with the lever at one time. That's not the way it was done with a Sharps. If I am not mistaken, the lever on a Spencer fed the bullet to the breech, then the hammer was cocked with the thumb.

Had I seen this movie on black and white small screen TV at the age of ten, I would have loved it. Had I seen it in vivid color on the big screen at that age, I would have been cringing in my seat, hiding my eyes at the bloodiest parts.

I saw this movie while my wife was at the Greek festival. Will I see it again? Can't say. I won't drag my SP (Sweetie Punkin) to see it because of the violence. She saw the Hyatt skywalks go down-enough violence for several lifetimes.

I'd like to see the Van Heflin-Glenn Ford version if I can find it.
SG