3:10 to Yuma vs. Shoot ‘Em Up

“3:10 to Yuma” Cast:
Christian Bale as Dan Evans
Russell Crowe as Ben Wade
Peter Fonda as Byron McElroy
Ben Foster as Charlie Prince
Kevin Durand as Tucker
Dallas Roberts as Grayson Butterfield
Alan Tudyk as Doc Potter
Chris Browning as Crawley
Chad Brummett as Kane
Shawn Howell as Jackson
Logan Lerman as William Evans
Lennie Loftin as Hollander
Gretchen Mol as Alice Evans
Benjamin Petry as Mark Evans
Luce Rains as Marshal Weathers
Vinessa Shaw as Emmy
Johnny Whitworth as Tommy Darden

Directed by James Mangold

“Shoot ‘Em Up” Cast
Clive Owen as Mr. Smith
Paul Giamatti as Mr. Hertz
Monica Bellucci as DQ
Greg Bryk as The Lone Man
Stephen McHattie
Ramona Pringle as Baby’s Mother
Jane McLean as Madam Maddie

Directed by Michael Davis

Note: This Double Feature Review is presented in the interest of giving those trying to decide between this weekend’s two big movies which one might be right for them.

Analysis:
Despite having a number of immediately notable similarities, you couldn’t find two more different movies in terms of tone and intention than James Mangold’s remake of the 1957 Western “3:10 to Yuma” and Michael Davis’ original action flick “Shoot ‘Em Up.” Both movies deal with men being put into grave danger for being in the wrong place as they try to do the right thing. Where Mangold goes for gritty realism in its adherence to the genre, Davis casts aside some of the sillier macho cliches of the genre for an over-the-top action flick full of dark humor and cartoon violence. Both filmmakers wear their influences on their sleeve, but Mangold’s Western might as well have been made in a reality where John Woo and Luc Besson, Davis’ biggest influences, never existed.

Mangold isn’t afraid to allow his film to build slowly as it pulls in its audience, slowly pulling in those who aren’t necessarily Western fans. Davis doesn’t have that sort of time to mess around as Clive Owen’s nameless hero (referred to as “Mr. Smith” for lack of a better epithet) steps up to save a pregnant woman being hounded by hit men, delivering her baby and trying to protect it while being chased by dozens of hired killers, using every skill in his repertoire to escape. This mysterious “Mr. Smith” is a bit of an enigma, whose past we know very little about, though he’s obviously not a man of means, at one point having to use food stamps to buy bullets for his growing arsenal of guns.

Christian Bale’s Dan Evans has fallen on similar hard times when we first meet him. His barn has been set ablaze by the henchmen of an impatient debt collector and after Dan and his sons witness a stage coach robbery by the notorious outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe), Dan agrees to help take Wade on the cross-country journey to the town of Contention where they will place him on the prison train to, you guessed it, Yuma. Dan’s motivations are more driven by desperation than Mr. Smith’s samaritan nature.

Bearing in mind that “Yuma” is a remake adapted from Halsted Welles’ original script, it’s very much a traditional Western for better or worse, while “Shoot ‘Em Up” is quite insane in the way it moves at a frenetic pace once the rock soundtrack kicks in and the bullets start flying and it never lets up. Davis rarely strives for realism, which is sometimes its biggest fault, such as the obviously fake baby being carted around by Owen’s character, which often takes away from the film’s little plausibility.

Both movies are very much about the relationship between the two main characters, and while Crowe’s villainy is sometimes questionable due to his charm and his desire to do the right thing, even if it’s just to save his own neck, Paul Giamatti’s hitman has no morals or scruples whatsoever, a given by the fact he’s trying to kill a baby. Then again, Wade would also kill a man in his sleep if he gives him too much crap and you might be more mixed on Wade, since those he does kill seem to have it coming to them. You have to appreciate Giamatti’s willingness to play the despicable cad that you love to hate.

Otherwise, “Shoot ‘Em Up” rarely stands still long enough to get to know these characters. Any exposition is there merely to give the viewer a chance to catch their breath in between the inventive shootouts. It’s really the innovative way these action sequences are brilliantly staged and shot by Peter Pau (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) that drives the movie, particularly in an exciting car chase and a skydiving sequence that will makes one pine for the days when Owen was up for the James Bond role. For the most part, Davis’ dialogue is deliberately corny and cheesy, rarely taking the violence and death seriously as Owen and Giamatti trade quips like Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd during “wabbit season,” this comparison driven home by Smith’s proclivity for carrots, always having one in hand to munch on during a gun battle, or using them as accessories to violently stab attackers in the eye.

Granted, “3:10″ does have its own action set pieces like chase through a mine shaft and the gauntlet of gunfire Bale and Crow must run to catch the train, but it’s always more about the developing relationship between Dan and Ben while on their journey. In that sense, “Yuma” is impeccably written with lots of really meaty dialogue between Bale and Crowe. The thing is that it sets up a fairly simple story early on and then lets thing pans out as they will, and while “Shoot ‘Em Up” eventually gets around to explaining why everyone is trying to kill this baby—it involves gun dealers and politicians with bone marrow diseases-but by then, you’ve become so accustomed to its frenetic pace that it probably isn’t very important for there to be a reason.

What truly elevates “3:10″ above and beyond is that the Crowe and Bale duo have such great supporting characters around them, and one is just as likely to walk away from it remembering the performance by Ben Foster as Wade’s #2 man, who fiendishly pursues the posse to save his boss, doing whatever’s necessary to get the job done. In that sense, he’s more like Giamatti’s villain in “Shoot ‘Em Up” than Wade himself. Mangold’s cast is fleshed out by actors like Peter Fonda, Kevin Durand, Dallas Howard and Alan Tudyk, the latter two rarely missing a beat despite playing against type, but the only real detriment to both movies may be the lack of strong female characters to balance the testosterone. Gretchen Mol only has two minor scenes as Dan’s wife, while Monica Belluci as a lactating hooker is little more than eye candy and a necessary plot device to keep the baby fed.

The Bottom Line:
You can do far worse things with your time than seeing either one of these two movies. Those looking for straight entertainment with no limits, no boundaries or filler will thrill at what Davis has done with “Shoot ‘Em Up” but for those looking for a little more meat on their bones and something to really sink their teeth in, “3:10″ is the type of classic filmmaking that diehard Western fans might appreciate but those unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the genre will admire for the craftsmanship that Mangold et al bring to the table. Clearly, Mangold has solidified his status as a master filmmaker with his take on “Yuma” while this new chapter in Davis’ career makes one want to see more of his unique style of action filmmaking, possibly with a bigger budget.

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