Welcome to Commentary Commentary, our long-running series of articles exploring the things we can learn from the most interesting filmmaker commentaries available on DVD and Blu-ray.
3:10 to Yuma was my first commentary listen from filmmaker James Mangold, but I decided two things immediately after it ended. First, it would not be my last of his commentaries, and second, he really needed to record one for his latest film too.
Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary for…
Commentator: James Mangold (director/co-writer)
1. He and Hugh Jackman began thinking about a follow-up immediately after completing 2013’s The Wolverine, and they knew it would most likely “bring the curtain down on his character.” They both agreed that superhero films in general had grown repetitious and wanted to do “something different, something deeper.”
2. The first thought on the road to crafting the story here was “what is Wolverine frightened of? What is Logan afraid of?” They wanted his final story to be the thing that scares him the most, and after scouring the comics he realized there was no villain or end-of-the-world scenario that would unsettle Wolverine. “The answer that came to me was love. Love scares him, intimacy scares him, being dependent on others scares him, being vulnerable scares him.”
3. Early drafts had Logan (Jackman) and Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) living in an old Kentucky bourbon mill before being moved to the U.S./Mexico border.
4. He describes his initial sixty page treatment as “Little Miss Sunshine meets The Gauntlet.”
5. They were aiming for a “more natural vibe” with the film, and he mentions influences like The Wrestler, Paper Moon, and “a lot of ’70s films.”
6. One of the reasons the film is called Logan is because it’s about the man, not the “hero” who Logan’s tired of being.
7. He praises Boyd Holbrook‘s portrayal of Pierce saying “one of the things you can really do that hurts your film is encourage the actors to just act ‘evil.'”
8. He’s equally fond of Stephen Merchant‘s performance saying the actor makes it clear that Caliban has real affection for Logan and Xavier. More than that though, he likes the varied rhythm that comes with blending performers like Merchant into the mix.
9. They struggled after deciding Xavier would be kept in an old water tank because it felt impractical that Logan would go up and down a 200-foot ladder every time. They were playing around with a model “and then suddenly we just tipped over the model of the tank on its side with its legs sticking out like some kind of dead spider.”
10. Some people assumed Mangold’s interest in the R-rating was that he’d be able to increase the level and detail of violence, foul language, and sexual references, “and in many ways all those things were attractive.” His biggest reason for going this route though “was a little more complicated than that.” An adult-rated film means the studio won’t make an effort to market the film to children with Happy Meals and toy tie-ins, and “what does that mean to the filmmaker?” He says what it changes for the writers/director is that no one at the studio is reading the script on a marketing level and then dictating editing choices to ensure it plays well to kids. “The ideas of the film are allowed to be more sophisticated because you’re no longer having to pace up the movie, edit it faster, make it more charming or colorful for a nine year old’s attention span. The film becomes what I had hoped for which is a comic book film for adults.”
11. There was a risk that Laura (Dafne Keen) would come off as “ridiculous” onscreen. “Would anyone believe the power and intensity and ferocity of this little kid and her foot claws.” He credits her performance for overcoming all of those concerns and delivering something truly special and remarkable here.
12. The film was shot primarily in and around New Orleans with a month of exterior work filmed in New Mexico. They had lost Stewart to a stage production by that time though meaning they had to intercut footage shot previously into the big scenes where the crew escape from Pierce. He details one thirty second sequence as follows. “This is shot in New Mexico. New Mexico. Louisiana, two months earlier. New Mexico. Louisiana. New Mexico. Louisiana.”
13. He knew that the internet being what it is audiences would know by the time they saw the film that Laura is essentially “a mini Wolverine, so you build the film with this anticipation.”
14. There’s obviously stunt performers and doubles involved in Keen’s scenes, “but you’d be amazed how much of this stuff Dafne’s doing, even wire work was one of her favorite things.” He says most adults are tired of wire work almost immediately, but Keen was always wanting to do more.
15. His goal with Marco Beltrami’s score was to avoid the typical sounds of big summer blockbusters and comic book films. “I wanted a more ’70s feel, I wanted more a kind of thriller or detective movie score, a more intimate score, something that wasn’t trying at every moment to bring the London Philharmonic to bear on the action.”
16. He says CG and green screen work has “robbed movies of a kind of authenticity that I miss. The films always film oddly fake even though the effects work is often amazing.” Preach.
17. He pimps the black & white version (included on a second Blu-ray) saying “the idea of releasing a monochromatic version of this movie really was the very organic result of early stills that I was taking in production, some of which I was releasing on Twitter, and I was making them black & white, and I think it startled all of us because I think it’s conventional wisdom that audiences don’t like black & white, it seems old-fashioned. People responded so intensely to those stills that it occurred to us to try and make a black & white version of the film.” He credits cinematographer John Mathieson with shooting a film that works beautifully in color or b&w.
18. The secret videos shot by the nurse were meant to appear as if she could actually have shot them surreptitiously, but he acknowledges they grow more elaborate as they go on. “My hope being that you’re being drawn into the story that Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez) is telling and less and less aware that the film-making and the cutting of her video might be a little beyond the level of your average nurse. Not that nurses can’t make great films.”
19. “One of the motifs of the movie is hands holding hands.” The shot of Laura looking at the casino mannequins first sets up the symbol of interlocked hands between a parent and a child as something she’s longing for.
20. He says George Stevens’ Shane is “a masterpiece of golden age American film-making.”