3:10 TO YUMA (2007)
Director: James Mangold
Cast: Christian Bale, Russell Crowe, Ben Foster, Peter Fonda, Logan Lerman, Gretchen Mol
MPAA Rating: (for violence and some language)
Running Time: 1:57
Release Date: 9/7/07
Review by Mark Dujsik
The premise of 3:10 to Yuma is the backbone of the Western: the honorable vs. the dishonorable. The dishonorable here are exactly what we expect: thieving, cold-blooded killers who think only of their own means and ends. The honorable folks are a different lot than the usual. They are a Civil War veteran in it for money, people in the pocket of a railroad company that exploits migrant workers, and a bounty hunter who, as one of the dishonorable antihero of the film says, doesn't think the Lord will mind too much if he indiscriminately killed Native American women and children. It's this moral gray area that keeps the straightforward plot moving with more involvement than it should. A remake of the 1957 film based on a short story by Elmore Leonard, this 3:10 to Yuma is very much a product of the contemporary view of Westerns, taking a note from Westerns of the '60s and '70s and playing with the archetypical characters and upping the violence and blood while still trying to recapture the essence of the classic structure and themes. As directed by James Mangold, the film moves at a steady pace, focuses on its characters' shifts in personal morale, and features fine performances, especially from its leads.
Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is a rancher and a veteran, injured in the war and left with a noticeable limp, and his ranch is in debt to a local man. A gang burns down Evans' barn, and his elder son William (Logan Lerman) thinks his pa is nothing more than a coward for not going after the man making their lives hell. The next day, Evans leaves his wife Alice (Gretchen Mol) at home to take his sons into town. On the way, they spy master criminal Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) and his gang robbing an armored carriage, despite the security of Byron McElroy (Peter Fonda) and other Pinkertons. Wade keeps the Evans' horses to keep them from doing something foolish, and he and his gang ride into town. Evans makes his way there, and Wade is captured by the local law after staying in town too long. Railroad representative Butterfield (Dallas Roberts) offers $200 to any man willing to take Wade to Contention so he can board the train to Yuma Prison. Evans takes the offer, but Wade's gang, led by the psychopathic Charlie Prince (a very effective Ben Foster), is hot on their trail.
It's important that Evans takes the job for the money. He's a sensible, reasoning man and not the man of action William expects him to be. He rides into town thinking he can reason with the man to whom he's in debt, and this only further complicates his son's perspective of him. He's tired of the way his son looks at him and the way his wife doesn't, waiting for his luck to turn and seeing this job as that opportunity. He's not a coward but more of a cynical optimist who's a good shot with a rifle. Wade, on the other hand, is notorious by reputation and worse in reality. When Byron tells a story about how Wade killed a carriage-full of people, Wade is quick to point out the lie: It was a train-full. He kills one of his own men in the first robbery just to show how trivial the lives of other men—including his own—are when they get in his way. He's a rough music critic, killing one of the posse members with a fork after too much of his serenading. William, who sneakily tags along on the trip to Contention against his father's wishes, is convinced, though, that Wade isn't all bad. Wade plainly responds, "I am."
Christian Bale and Russell Crowe are solid and to the point in these roles. Bale conveys a world-weariness in Evans, and Crowe, with his steely gaze, is both wickedly droll and always threatening as Wade. Their performances help to elevate the strange, uneasy relationship that forms between the two men and the way that unlikely bond changes each of them. The trek to Contention is full of the usual scenes we expect from the genre. There are late-night campfires, a shortcut through Apache territory, a chase through a railroad construction site, and, of course, a final shootout in the town of destination. The scenes work because of the interactions between Evans and Wade—the way Evans' close-mouthed secrecy and moral outrage grow to tolerance, and the way Wade begins to see something worthwhile in Evans that is, for once, completely outside of himself. The climactic standoff in Contention escalates as Wade offers money to Evans if he walks away but Evans manipulates a way to get the same money without selling his morals. There's an impractical (one man against a small army) but still intense firefight in the streets where enemies become necessary allies, and Wade getting on that train becomes more than a mere plot device.
The act can earn one man honor (although, as usual, the price for that seems outlandishly high), while the other discovers something resembling a soul along the way (nonetheless making sure to have a backup plan). It's thematically simple, but 3:10 to Yuma makes it substantial enough for the familiar story to work.
Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.