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.