Did the Western make a comeback in 2007, with 3:10 to Yuma (371 screens), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (294 screens), and last spring's Seraphim Falls? That's a tough question, but the better question would be: did it ever go away? Those three movies earned a lot of attention this year, and it showed that, if nothing else, filmmakers and actors are eager to make Westerns once again, as they did back in the 1950s. How much more of a indication do you need when Pierce Brosnan, Russell Crowe and Brad Pitt don cowboy hats and mount horses? Other actors, such as Matt Damon and Colin Farrell have suggested how much fun they had while making recent Westerns. Unfortunately, audiences don't seem so interested, and conversely, producers don't want to put up the money for actors to play if audiences don't want to share in the fun.
Director James Mangold told me that no studio would touch 3:10 to Yuma, and that he had to secure financing from a bank. It opened, happily, in the #1 box office slot, but after eight weeks, it has started to slide, and is still just shy of recapturing its $55 million budget. And this is a terrific, crowd-pleasing movie with a great performance by Crowe. It's directed with energy and clarity, with an innovative use of an authentic Western soundtrack. It has exciting gunfights and chases and escapes. And if aesthetes and elitists wish, they can see bonus allusions to Iraq in the film, even if they're not actually mentioned or hammered home. It's unpretentious in every way. (Paul Haggis could take a few notes from this movie.) So why has the box office slowed down so drastically?