Elmore Leonard's very short story Three Ten To Yuma was a masterful exploration of an underpaid marshal's motivation to defy the odds (and death) and incarcerate an outlaw. After I posted this, I was curious to see what a Hollywood feature-length treatment of the story might look like. I would have preferred the 1957 original, but I had readier access to last year's big budget remake, so that's the one I watched.
It quickly became apparent the filmmakers' concern was not “What motivates a man?” but “What motivates a Hero?” The film is cluttered with comic book violence (dreary Frank Miller mode), but rather than embody or give lie to the dialog, the action serves mostly to distract from the dialog, the entirety of which is devoted to (yep) “What exactly is it that motivates ... a Hero?” Thus we get Russell Crowe as a Trickster Shamen, cajoling, tormenting and physically endangering the not-quite Hero (Christian Bale) until the novitiate finds it within himself to utter the magic words (a confession) that transforms the demon into personal ally. '07-3:10 is entirely the stuff of comic books, and the film is about as successful in what it does as most of the last two-dozen comic book movies have been.
Happily, the other half of my two-for-one rental was David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises. After watching Cronenberg trip himself up with comic book banalities in A History Of Violence, I didn't hold out much hope for Eastern Promises, which on paper reads with the same broad strokes: a downy naif has unquestioningly absorbed the presumptions of liberal democracy, and thinks she can change the world by standing alone and speaking the truth to power. Running parallel to her story is that of a ronin-type figure who has insinuated himself inside the corridors of power, and realizes there is no justice without embracing the methods and mindset of the enemy you hate. Thankfully, Cronenberg doesn't take the “Chatty Cathy” approach to character development — we get to see the characters slowly unfold through actions that eventually make enough sense to keep the tension strung. This time Cronenberg isn't reinventing the wheel (The Fly) or attempting the impossible (Naked Lunch), he's delivering the goods — including one of the most harrowing, physically persuasive fight scenes I've seen in years (I was physically moving in my seat to avoid the blades). Eastern Promises is a taut, focused thriller that left me, well, thrilled. Hey, the 50/50 equation still holds!
Post-script: while watching EP I kept thinking back to Stephen Frears' Dirty Pretty Things, but couldn't put my finger on why that was (beyond the fact that both movies explore immigrant ties in present-day London). Turns out they were both written by the same guy: Steve Knight.