I saw this film last night at a preview in the lead up to the Toronto International Film Festival. Having never been a big western fan (with a few exceptions - Shane, High Noon, The Wild Bunch) and having been rather indifferent to Walking The Line, James Mangold's last directorial effort, my expectations were modest, despite the hype that the film has received. But I was duly impressed. The action and tension remain constant throughout but, more importantly, the plot is compelling and the acting is terrific. No doubt many will be impressed by Ben Foster's affected performance as Russell Crowe's loyal but psychopathic sidekick (think Johnny Depp in the Pirate movies) but to my taste it was much too over the top in a cast that offered a number of subtle and well thought out performances.
Russell Crowe is brilliant as the arrogant, amoral outlaw Ben Wade and Christian Bales infuses his role as a beleaguered rancher and Civil War veteran with just the right mix of pathos and dignity. Iy was wonderful to see Peter Fonda be given a role in which he was allowed to demonstrate his genuine talent, much too long hidden away. In my view, though, it is Logan Lerman who most deserves the accolades that will certainly come his way. He plays Bales' teenage son who comes of age in the course of the film. Initially disillusioned with a father whom he sees as drudge and a failure, he eventually recognizes his father as the hero he is (or at least becomes).
Cinematically, this film ranks up there with the best westerns of all time. It is consistently beautiful to watch and captures the expanse and majesty of the American west as well as any movie I've ever seen.
In many respects this is a traditional western (it is a remake, after all). They really don't make movies like this much anymore and it will be interesting to see whether it finds an audience in this era of dumbed down teen comedies and quirky slices of dysfunctional modern life. I wish it well.