(Maple, 2007) D: James Mangold, w/ Russell Crowe, Christian Bale. Rating: NNNN; DVD package: NNNN
“We were motivated by the power of the story,” says director James Mangold (Walk The Line) on a commentary that offers rich insights into the western genre, myth-making, character creation and the place of structural and emotional work in the director’s job.
The movie backs him up with a tight, perfectly paced story, powerful widescreen compositions and a cast that looks great on horseback.
But, although it’s better made, the film lacks the intensity of Delmer Daves’s 1957 original. In it, Van Heflin plays the desperately poor farmer who has to take captured outlaw Ben Wade (Glenn Ford) 80 miles to meet the prison train. He has a weak face and seems morally uncertain and cowardly, and the script emphasizes that. Ford has a trustworthy face and built a career as a good guy on it.
Christian Bale, as the farmer in the new version, reads strong, not weak, while Russell Crowe, the outlaw, does not suggest Ford’s depths or the contrast between ruthless manipulator and romantic yearner.
It’s not their fault. This script offers less dialogue and shifts the balance from slowly mounting suspense to action. Crowe and Bale are both excellent, as is the rest of the cast, notably Ben Foster as Crowe’s vicious lieutenant.
On the other hand, this version does much better with the implausible climax, with Marco Beltrami’s Morricone-influenced score lifting the nonsense to operatic heights.
Either film is well worth a look. Together they’d make a highly educa-tional double bill.
EXTRAS Director commentary, making-of doc, historical Old West outlaws doc, deleted scenes. Widescreen. English, Spanish subtitles.