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About the CRitic links
                                    Shaking Them Up
"The Wind That Shakes The Barley"
"For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one's foes will be members of one's own household" (Matthew 10: 35-6). 
We all know about our American Civil War pitting family members against each other, sometimes on the same battlefield.  Not so many of us know that the same thing was happening in Ireland, particularly after 1920, when the peace treaty signed with London was acceptable to some Irish resistance leaders but not others.  Britain was clever in re-directing the conflict so that it was no longer Irish against English, but loyalist Irish against rebel Irish (later oversimplified as Catholic against Protestant).  This film has won several awards, but it will be difficult for some American viewers to understand because of very thick brogues, combined with the hand-held camera type of informal direction.             For the believer, it's a strange sight, at the end, watching a Catholic priest preach to his congregation directly about the current political conflict, and then having to put up with some of his parishioners first jumping up and arguing with him, and then, when he demands that that they either shut up or leave, they exit en masse!  You have to be careful how you admonish people; they may just walk out on you.
A 19th-century French merchant (Michael Pitt) journeys eastward to Japan (overland through Siberia!), in search of silkworm eggs not infested by the local disease.  Though he is happily married, he becomes enchanted with a young Asian woman, and is willing to risk the treacherous journey twice more in order to see her again.  His pretty but childless wife (Keira Knightley) seems surprisingly blasť about his disaffection, and his long absences, as well.  This film is replete with long pauses and silent landscape panoramas; and such sparse dialogue it's as if you're supposed to be filling in the blank spaces with your knowledge of the book.  Or maybe they're just posing, because somebody told them they look attractive and noble.
Yes, there's an interesting twist at the end, but a slow-moving movie with this little tempo doesn't need to leave so many plot holes.
"Elizabeth, The Golden Age"
Cate Blanchett reprises her role as The Virgin Queen who presides over England's Golden Age (of conquest).  This is another strange kind of love triangle story, where the Queen obviously feels something for the rascally ruffian Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen), but she frustratingly alternates between wanting to domesticate him like a trained lap dog, suppressing her own desire for him, and trying to re-direct him to her confidante chambermaid (Abbie Cornish)---and then she throws a hissy fit when they do get together? 
           Well, perhaps the Ice Queen is really at her best when arranging for the elimination of her chief rival, Mary Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton), then grieving loudly and publicly at the moment of her execution. Or perhaps when she's delivering, from horseback, in full battle regalia, her impassioned pep talk to her fearful troops as they gather quietly on the shore line, waiting for the Spanish Armada to land and smash into them all. (Instead, it was the Armada that smashed into the rocks, and whether luck or skill or some remarkable combination, it was one of those defining moments of history.) 
Blanchett humanizes a larger-than-life historical figure, and her complex performance is wondrously layered.  But she's so intense that she can't even stand being around herself for very long, and neither can anyone else.
Questions For Discussion:
1) What would have happened had the Spanish Armada not shipwrecked before it landed on English soil?
2) Have you ever found yourself compellingly attracted to someone who was not your spouse?  What did you do about it?  And do you think your spouse suspected by your disaffection?
3) What are the lingering effects in American culture of our own Civil War?
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Terrell, Texas

     This re-make of the 1957 black-and-white Western is an adaptation of Elmore Leonard's story that is anything but black and white.  Usually, in Westerns, it's easy to tell the good guys (white hats) from the bad guys (black hats), but here the lines get a little blurred.
     Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is a small-time rancher with a beautiful family and a shallow bank account.  His villainous landlord sets fire to his barn to induce a late payment on the mortgaged land suffering from an extended drought.  While trying to round up his scattered livestock, Evans happens upon a stagecoach robbery, masterfully conducted by the notorious outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe).  But Wade is later captured because he tarries too long in his delightful dalliance with the barmaid at the local saloon.  Evans, strapped for cash, volunteers to be part of Pinkerton's posse to deliver Wade to a town several days' ride away, and put him on the prisoners' train, the "3:10 To Yuma."  Evan's 14-year-old son, forbidden by his father to "tag along," decides to follow the desultory procession, anyway, and predictably, gets caught up in the extended contest of will and wit.
     Along the way, they are attacked by renegade Apaches, ambushed by a rival sheriff (who wants Wade because of a personal vendetta), and relentlessly chased by the rest of Wade's outlaw band.  Evans and Wade develop a grudging respect for each other, which they're going to need if they're going to have any chance of surviving the journey together.
     Crowe plays a deliciously malevolent, smooth-talking, scripture-quoting, cold-blooded bandit, while exuding good-ol'-boy charm.  Bale is more the grim-faced, tight-lipped, Puritan on a righteous mission, but we are drawn to him because he is willing to stand up for his principles, he is perilously unafraid, and he seeks to not only provide for his family, but to be for his sons the kind of father they could look up to.  Even if it kills him.
     In this story, as in all of Elmore Leonard's westerns (and most of his tales of more modern desperados, as well), life is cheap, violence is abrupt, and any romance is fleeting and dangerous.  Children have to grow up fast, and intelligent adults have to really work at overcoming their inherent cynicism if they're going to have any joy or satisfaction at all.  But, great storyteller that he is, you never quite know when an unexpected twist of character development is going to cause the plot line to exhibit a quick reversal of fortune.
     Crowe brings his considerable screen power to a role hardly sympathetic or heroic, but we can't keep our eyes off him, anyway.  Bale is the straight man, the petulant foil to Crowe's rascally charm, but he can handle plenty of camera time, as well.  Together, they create a kind of dynamic tension that carries the viewer through the entire film.
     "3:10 to Yuma" is in the old-fashioned tradition of shoot-'em-up Westerns, and it's not for the squeamish, but it is an outstanding remaking of an old Hollywood genre.

Questions For Discussion:
1) The villain quotes from Proverbs: "All deeds are right in the sight of the doer, but the Lord weighs the heart" (Proverbs 21:2). On what occasion would you quote this verse?
2) The villain says that his mother told him to read the Bible from cover to cover when he was 8 (right before she abandoned him), and that's where he learned so much scripture.  What would be the ideal age for a child to read the Bible in its entirety?
3) Do you think that it is possible for career criminals to repent, convert, and transform?  Do you think that it's possible for that transformation to be permanent?

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Terrell, Texas