A rancher who owes money to an unscrupulous man who is trying to run him off his land agrees to take an outlaw to the train station, to be sent to Yuma to be tried and executed.
I was really looking forward to seeing this, it got great reviews and has a good cast: Russell Crowe, of whom I am not fond…but once in a while, as in Gladiator and The Far Side of the World he is really good, so I had hopes for him. I like Christian Bale, even when he is in a sucky movie. Peter Fonda is also in this, and Alan Tudyk, whom we know better as Wash from Firefly.
So what’s not to like? Let’s use this movie as a negative example while we learn…
HOW TO MAKE A GOOD WESTERN
- Characters: even if they’re stock characters, you have to like at least one of them, or you’ll be thinking Who cares? when danger threatens. Russell Crowe was a slightly menacing whinyboy, Christian Bale was a wimp trying to make good, and the only person we liked in this was Alan Tudyk, who played the doctor. And because he was the only good character, you know what happened to him, don’t you?Oh, and the Evil Ex-Confederate Soldier was in this one, we’ve seen enough of him too. Sigh. Lee Van Cleef did it better, you know…
- Action: Most Westerns need some of this. There are a few exceptions, but generally that’s what people are plonking down their ten bucks to see. This movie? LONG dull scenes that basically did very little to advance the plot.
- Speaking of plot, that’s another thing you need. And don’t be stingy! This movie had about forty five minutes of actual plot in a two hour movie. And not much explodo filling in, either. Mr. Otter fell asleep about half an hour into the movie, then woke up and wandered off to do email, and just came back for the gunfight at the end.And he didn’t miss much, believe me.
- And if you’re working on a plot, some good dialogue would help too. The only vaguely interesting thing anyone in this movie said was (of course) Russel Crowe’s line, after one of the guys who are taking him to Yuma disses him and makes a disparaging remark on Crowe’s parentage: as he kicks the guy over a cliff, he gets to say, Even an outlaw loves his momma! That earned a small laugh from me. The only really enjoyable line in the movie.
- Cliches: Okay, there are some that are OK in a western…and there are others that are not. It’s not really so annoying that this movie pretty much goes through all the ‘Western’ stereotypes: the erudite outlaw who forges a kind of friendship with his captor, the evil guy trying to make money from the railroad taking over, the chinese railroad workers, etc etc etc. But the one cliche that OTTER NEVER FORGIVES is the Gloating Bond Villian Syndrome (and that gets the cliche police to show up.)They’ve captured the outlaw. They know his gang is trying to get him back. They want to make an example of him. Smart thing to do? shoot him and display his body to prove he’s dead. But no. The silly plot of this movie REQUIRES that they take him to a train station to catch the eponymous train so that he can be publicly tried and executed, thereby causing the most possible collateral damage from his gang, who (duh) are following the whole way, trying to get him back. What an idiotic thing to do!Not to mention the ‘shortcut through the Black Hills where the Apaches who wouldn’t go to the reservation are shooting at anyone who goes through there, so we must have a big ol’ discussion about whether or not it’s too dangerous before deciding to do it’…as everyone watching the movie knows they are going to. And the scary Injuns? three guys. Sheesh. Russell Crowe takes them out while WEARING HANDCUFFS. Needless to say, it didn’t make him look tough, it made the filmmakers look silly.
And finally: THE BIG SHOOT-EM-UP AT THE END. This was actually pretty good, the most watchable ten or fifteen minutes of the film. Especially after the sheriff of the town where they’re supposed to catch the train shows up with his deputies to help out…and Evil Confederate Guy publicly offers 200 bucks to anyone who shoots one of the good guys. But why (in that case) didn’t the townspeople just go in the hotel and get them? Because then we would have missed the scenes of Crowe and Bale bonding some more. Have I already said ‘sheesh.’ too much?
Well, there you are. This movie got some serious critical acclaim (probably based solely on the actors’ previous reputations) and I really have no idea why. Oh, and the TWO OSCAR NOMINATIONS, much touted in the ads? both for score/composer. Nuf sed. Speaking as an Otter who really loves good Westerns, this one really sucked the ‘silly and boring’ lollipop. Rent it if you must, but don’t buy it. You’ll just be encouraging this kind of thing.