We’re nearing the end of a very long wait, kids — Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny hits theaters this week, promising grand adventure and a somber approach to our iconic hero. It’s not very Spielberg-ian, if you ask me. However, Steven Spielberg didn’t direct the fifth entry in the long-running franchise. Instead, James Mangold, the acclaimed director of Walk the Line and Logan, among others, took the reins.
For those unfamiliar with Mangold’s work, I’ve compiled a list of the best James Mangold movies from his oeuvre that you should check out to familiarize yourself with his style before heading into Dial of Destiny.
Of all the films on this list, Logan feels like the perfect side-by-side comparison to Indy V—based on the reviews I’ve read, at least. Here, we find Hugh Jackman’s Logan, aka Wolverine, nearing the final stages of his life. He still possesses the same fiery temper but is also broken, angry, and detached from society—similar to Indy at the start of Dial of Destiny. However, adventure comes calling in the form of a young girl with mutant powers, and Logan must once again assume the Wolverine mantle to protect her from a dangerous threat.
Mangold envelops Logan in a very R-rated, mature tone, filled with blood, plenty of F-bombs, and numerous adult themes. This is not your typical comic book adaptation meant for the whole family. Logan is dark, mean, often difficult to watch due to its brutality, but it is never less than masterful in its execution. It lingers a little longer than necessary and lays on the pathos pretty thick. Yet, at its core, this is a hopeful examination of a broken man seeking one last shot at redemption. Sound familiar?
Walk the Line (2005)
Mangold’s Walk the Line is a perfect biography. While other films based on legendary stars often get too caught up in the superstardom, meticulously recreating moments from their lives without actually examining their subjects, Walk the Line strips Johnny Cash down to his bones, allowing us to see the man behind the myth. Portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix (who sings all of Cash’s tunes!), Cash is an ordinary man grappling with fame, fortune, love, drug addiction, the loss of his younger brother, and his overbearing father. By the end of the film, songs such as “Ring of Fire” and “Walk the Line” carry more weight, as does our view of Cash and his eternal flame, June Carter (Reese Witherspoon in her best performance).
Mangold handles the material well, refraining from judging Cash and simply pointing a camera at his antics, giving us a chance to walk in his shoes. It’s a brilliant film and one of the best biographies ever made.
No, Indy doesn’t sing like Johnny Cash, but it seems like he experiences the same aches and pains as our fabled country star.
3:10 to Yuma (2007)
Speaking of men grappling with fame, 3:10 to Yuma pits Russell Crowe’s superstar outlaw against Christian Bale’s down-on-his-luck farmer with delicious results. More action-adventure than a traditional Western—did we need the Gatling guns?—this violent drama peels back the layers on both men and offers a glimpse into their psyches to see what makes them tick. When the time comes for Bale, a former Civil War veteran looking to collect a bounty and earn the respect of his dismissive son, to transport Crowe’s character to a train and send him to prison, we understand and respect both of these men equally. Think Michael Mann’s Heat, just more outlandish and with at least twice as many horses.
Mangold ramps up the death count to absurd heights, especially during the third-act sequence, but he intersperses the mayhem with quieter, intimate moments that work because the two leads are extraordinary.
3:10 to Yuma may not be a classic genre entry, but it moves at a brisk pace and offers an enticing character study about two disillusioned men operating on opposite sides of the law.
Ford v Ferrari (2019)
Ford v Ferrari may boast thrilling race sequences and a clear affection for cars, but make no mistake, this is a movie about fathers and sons—it’s also one of the saddest films you’ll ever see.
Are you noticing a pattern here? James Mangold makes films about broken men reconciling with their poor life decisions. They’re still heroes and remarkably efficient at what they do, but they carry a lot of baggage and are often forced on a journey that allows them to break free of their past regrets.
Does that work for Indy, a man who once rode off into the sunset without a care in the world alongside his dad and friends moments after losing the latest love of his life? We’ll see.
Regardless, the approach works incredibly well for Ford v Ferrari. Sure, there’s definitely a need for speed on display, but Mangold is more interested in the complex engines operating under the hood, if you catch my drift. Thankfully, stars Christian Bale and Matt Damon rise to the task of molding their characters into more than just caricatures of larger-than-life icons. For all their innovation and expertise, Ken Miles and Carroll Shelby are remarkably human, which means we feel their pain even more.
Cop Land (1997)
Speaking of heavy character dramas, you would all do well to watch the terrific Copland from 1997, starring Sylvester Stallone in one of his best performances as an aged cop faced with a difficult decision: to protect his idolized officers or uphold the law and bring the truth to light. The film delves into the complex dynamics of power, morality, and the consequences of choices made by the characters.
Once again, Mangold delves into the psyche of his male protagonists and allows Stallone a chance to play against type. Copland ventures into fascinating territory and serves as a solid exploration of the dark side of law enforcement.
In other words, take a look at James Mangold movies and maybe you’ll be more inclined to accept his version of Indiana Jones.
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