The Reeler

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September 7, 2007

Shoot-Out for the Soul of the Western

Reeler Interview: Catching up with James Mangold on the 3:10 to Yuma

Best Western: (L-R) Alan Tudyk, Christian Bale, Russell Crowe, Peter Fonda and Lennie Loftin in 3:10 to Yuma (Photos: Lionsgate)

Remakes of classic movies often come across as cynical, trotting out proven formulas with the most bankable current stars attached. Director James Mangold's 3:10 to Yuma, however, a new version Delmer Daves' 1957 film of the same name, offers a thornier re-imagining of the original by exploring a different segment of the narrative. Russell Crowe plays Ben Wade, a legendary bank robber and all-around brilliant bad guy; Christian Bale is Dan Evans, a down-on-his-luck rancher charged with escorting the recently-captured Wade to the train that will take him to jail in Yuma. Based on an Elmore Leonard short story, 3:10 (opening today in New York) eschews traditional genre stoicism by developing a complicated relationship between Wade and Evans during the dangerous journey to the train.

Mangold, a native New Yorker, has long been fascinated by 3:10 -- in 1997's Cop Land, for starters, Sylvester Stallone's character, Sheriff Heflin, alludes to Van Heflin, the actor who played Evans in the original. As the creative team behind Walk the Line (2005), Identity (2003) and Girl Interrupted (1999). Mangold and producer and partner Cathy Konrad have a history of taking on projects that require a great deal of nuance both on- and offscreen. The pair recently took time out to discuss the Western, working together as couple and their cinematic heroes with The Reeler.

THE REELER: I found the relationship that develops between Dan Evans and Ben Wade similar to the one shared by Jennifer Lopez and George Clooney in Out of Sight -- also based on an Elmore Leonard story. Do you see that at all?

JAMES MANGOLD: There's the genre that something is labeled on the outside, and then there's the genre it actually is. I think that however insulting it sounds there are aspects of a buddy picture in this in a very perverse way: A villain and a hero are strapped together and are having to find common ground as they spend an incredibly long journey together. I don't think you could only talk about Soderbergh's picture as having that. It's a staple of that kind of picture -- Midnight Run, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid -- the anal-retentive one, the wild one, both in love with the same woman, on and on again. I think there's a classic structure that almost borders on a kind of love-story structure, where two people forced together have to find a common ground and end up seeing each other as mirrors of one another.

CATHY KONRAD: But I think why that's so classical on a certain level is that everybody, when they look at themselves, can see the dark and the light in themselves. I think that we are as people very complicated, and I don't think labels like "good" and "bad" can be so aptly applied and pure.

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R: Westerns are often read as good-versus-evil allegories. Do you think viewers now are interested in a morality play, and how do you adapt that to speak to a modern audience?

JM: I think your read is off, being that I think, without being too contrary, that people have always labeled the Western as a meditation on good and evil and yet they've never been that. Only the kind of stereotype -- maybe the Gene Autry, Lone Ranger Western. In Shane, the good guy is a bad guy and the bad guy is a bad guy. The fact is that these movies are a lot more sophisticated, by nature, than they've ever been given credit for. Inherent in your question is, "Do I think modern audiences are hip to what a Western can deliver?" I think, "Absolutely," because I think the great Westerns have always delivered complicated characters in the shadow between good and evil, and much more so now, to use an example, than any one of the comic book movies that have come out in the last 15 years.

R: Most interesting, successful Westerns swerve from that formula, and the way they swerve says a lot about their audiences. What does your movie say about its audience?

JM: This was very intentionally set up, and certainly within the political climate we live in where you have a killer -- a "bad guy" -- defending himself using the Bible and you have a bounty hunter defending himself using the Bible. This was all a very conscious but passionate effort to construct a kind of world ... where questions about contemporary life and past life are asked inside the film.

3:10 to Yuma director James Mangold

R: You two are a real filmmaking partnership. Have there ever been projects one of you was really hot for that the other nixed?

CK: We each have a pretty diverse body of work, meaning I don't think we fall into a rabbit hole of only loving one kind of thing. So we're generally very open to all sort of things, which makes it easier to appreciate each other's palate or approach to other things that we might not right-off-the-bat say, "Oh, I want to do that."

Identity was a great example in that when I bought that script it wasn't something that I sent to Jim. I sold it to the studio, and over the weekend Jim was like, "Oh, you sold a script? Can I read it?" And he read it and was like, "Well, I want to do it." And I hadn't even thought about it in my mind's eye that it would be something that he would love.

R: 3:10 to Yuma is very much about heroes and anti-heroes. Who are some of your favorite cinematic heroes?

JM: I'm always in love with the anti-heroes.

CK: Josey Wales.

R: In a fight, Josey Wales or Ben Wade? Who wins?

CK: I had a poster of Clint Eastwood hanging in my bedroom from, I don't know, age 8. My sister had Sylvester Stallone in Rocky and I had Josey Wales, so Clint Eastwood is my icon. I would have to vote for Josey Wales.

JM: I'll let it sit with that.



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