3:10 to Yuma (Mangold, 2007)

3:10 to Yuma, James Mangold’s bloated but entertaining remake of the Delmer Daves’ classic western, surprises only in how consistently it bounces back and forth from tense, intimate action to meandering, repetitive plot filler. Mangold keeps the story focused on Dan Evans’ (Christian Bale) attempt to deliver infamous outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) to the titular prison train despite the cowardice of his companions and the brutal gang of robbers hot on their trail. However, the film is overly straightforward and Mangold spends a tedious amount of time on Wade’s lethal legend and mythology, which doesn’t really set him apart from the cliched villains of past westerns. The filmmakers do realize the genius behind Christian Bale’s subtle and haunting performance as the crippled rancher trying to redeem his failing family life and masculinity, giving him even more screen time than star Crowe. 3:10 to Yuma isn’t a great film merely for it’s sheer lack of creativity and ingenuity in dealing with the western genre (a hard task I’ll admit), yet Mangold manages to craft some classic moments of tension during scenes in cramped spaces – a chase through the hole of a mountain and Evans’ ending shootout remain fascinating because they bring the violence in close. I’ve heard a few reviewers comment on how the railroad and it’s agents are the real villain in 3:10 to Yuma, but this isn’t enough of a critique to forgive Mangold for his one-note supporting cast of deputies, Pinkertons, and railroad men surrounding the two leads. Only Evans’ fourteen-year old son William played by the unforgiving Logan Lerman, resonates with the same complexity as Bale. In the end, 3:10 to Yuma resides in the fun but forgetful section of my movie-watching mind, ultimately a disappointment considering the talent involved and my love for the genre.

Girl, Interrupted (Mangold, 1999)

Director James Mangold has a talent for taking familiar genre traits and injecting a sense of sincerity to the proceedings. Girl, Interrupted is no different, basically showing a female version of One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest, yet the film maintains a distinct style and grace which feels altogether Mangold. In each of his first three films Mangold focuses on one aesthetic choice to tell the story – the sombre pacing in Heavy, the harsh modernization of Western motifs in Cop Land, and now a beautiful sense of montage in Girl, Interrupted. Mangold often transitions to flashbacks, new scenes, and moments of dramatic tension through direct glances, moving the camera and cutting all at the same time. Winona Ryder’s Susanna and her breaking mental state become represented by this fluid, constantly shifting style of editing, and it remains the most fascinating thing about the film. Angelina Jolie, in her over the top Oscar winning performance, shines the most when she doesn’t say a word. Ironic if you ask me.

Cop Land (Mangold, 1997)

Definitely a step up in budget and star power (Cop Land has one of the better casts of recent memory), but Mangold manages to retain much of the tension and pacing seen in his debut film Heavy. Cop Land resides in the realm of the crime drama, but it’s really a Western underneath – Sheriff Freddy Heflin (Sly Stallone in a great performance) battling the underbelly of a small town (led by Harvey Keitel’s corrupt cop), outsiders unable to understand or help, and the violent retribution of past sacrifices playing a key role. Mangold once again pays close attention to faces and their particular relationships to space, this time excluding sound from key scenes to parallel Freddy’s inability to hear out of one ear. Throughout the film we see how alone Freddy feels, a small town man of the law surrounded by the arrogance and greed of big city politics, but this aesthetic approach brings the final bloody conflict more weight, pushing the viewer into Freddy’s POV with stunning clarity. Mangold’s director’s cut, clocking in at almost 15 more minutes than the theatrical version, drags a bit, however the film as a whole marks a shining example of what a talented, film literate director can do when given moderate funds and an amazing ensemble.

Heavy (Mangold, 1995)

It’s great to finally see where James Mangold began his career. The man behind such duds as Identity, gems like Cop Land, and the upcoming 3:10 To Yuma remake has always struck me as an interesting filmmaker, a humanist at heart working in an industry which praises artificiality. Heavy, his critically acclaimed debut, came about amidst the American Indy scene at it’s height, and it’s to Mangold’s credit this small, subtle beauty made such an impact in the company of Tarantino, et. al. Mangold’s direction is first rate, positioning his camera as Ozu would (the great David Bordwell made this great observation on his blog), to enable the characters maximum space to move around freely, letting nuance, patterns, and habits express more about story than dialogue. Pruitt Taylor Vince, who plays Victor, the overweight chef of Mangold’s primary diner locale, acts more with his facial expressions than words, creating a character overwhelmed by life’s small stresses which rest heavy on his shoulders, unwilling to yield. Mangold’s film deals with Victor’s growth as a singular person, not defined by his kind but needy mother (Shelly Winters) or his coworkers (played by Liv Tyler and Deborah Harry), and his attempts to gain something fulfilling out of life. Made on a miniscule budget, Mangold favors substance over flash, silence over banter, and most importantly kindness over brutality. Throughout Heavy, Victor tries to save the people in his life from their own downfall, realizing in the process he has to save himself first. A great example of an American indy.