Seeing the original first always makes it difficult to enjoy a remake. Period end of story. Despite that, this is a really good remake. It does that thing that all remakes do though….it adds more people and more travel time in which to kill them off. It also adds more dialogue. Now this isn’t necessarily regrettable, especially in this case. It gives us more back-story (for both main characters) and more dramatic tension. The biggest thing I have to complain about this remake is that because of all that that I just mentioned, you lose some of the best part of the original: the dialogue in the bridal suite between Dan Evans (Christian Bale) and Ben Wade (Russell Crowe). But the dialogue that was there was fantastic. Lots of good added dialogue, but more importantly, a lot of the original dialogue. Some nasty foreshadowing, but you know….what good story doesn’t?
Bale and Crowe are absolutely fantastic. Their interactions are terse and exciting and just lots of fun to watch. Ben Foster is incredible, bringing a psychotic energy to Ben Wade’s right hand man Charlie that is a welcome addition to the story. Alan Tudyk as drunk, old Doc Potter has the most funny lines in this terse Western drama (although Ben Wade get a really good line about “a great view”), and is fantastic.
The “song” being hummed is more traditional and more historically accurate than the “3:10 to Yuma” ballad that accompanied the original.*
A’fore this night is done
They’re gonna hang me in the mornin’
And I’ll never see the sun
What?!?!?! In a historical context, you can say coolie but you can’t say nigger? When the hell did that happen? Did Luke Wilson object? And hey! He finally gets a death scene! Yeah Luke!
And why the hell isn’t anybody smoking? Ok, there was the two guys with the Gatling gun** rolling cigarettes that made we wonder why Disney is so afraid to have Pecos Bill roll them, but when you’re revitalizing the Western genre I guess you have to revitalize Western morals as well. Le sigh. But I do appreciate the dirtier, grittier feel to the West. As in Disney’s The Alamo (2004), the West is now full of cowboys, Indians and Mexicans, all looking for their way. I LOVE that Ben Wade’s gang has a Mexican sharpshooter and an (Apache? Navajo?) Indian with a top hat and a feather. So period…SO cool.
And that’s all I’m prepared to talk about outside of spoiler tags.
Spoiler Alert! (place and hold your mouse over the bar to see)
I didn’t like the horrible cliché that Ben Foster forced on the coach driver in order to find out where Ben was…even if it does enhance the whole thing about time and distances in the old West, it’s a horrible cliché (Tell us where the talking llama is AND we’ll burn your house to the ground). I enjoyed in the original the excitement of seeing Charlie wake up in Contention and then riding out to get the rest of the gang.
Also, I didn’t like Ben’s gang. They seemed more vicious than in the original. But here’s the problem: was the gang more realistic and true to the period because of it? Even if it was, I’d like to think that the image of the gang presented in the original is of a gang with a moral code…that doesn’t kill gratuitously. That it wasn’t just Ben Wade that made the gang somewhat moral. I mean granted the gang was never Robin Hood and His Merry Men, but they weren’t stone-cold killers either.
* Makes me think of Tom Lehrer’s Oedipus Rex song.
**There’s a beautiful continuity error. After the first Gatling gun guy gets shot and falls off, there’s a shot from behind the coach that shows two guys in the back carriage, and then a cut back to the single guy. The other big trip was when they start running towards the station, I swear to you it looked like the ocean was beyond the tracks. Sure it turned out to be snow, but it was a real trip.