Western movies are seen by many as legendary, but I’ve never quite figured out why. They have always seemed dull and, dare I say it, I’ve never warmed to the likes of Clint Eastwood in a poncho. Luckily, giving up an evening for 3.10 to Yuma wasn’t such a bad thing after all. I can’t say I’m about to go and lap up all the Western classics, but it definitely did the genre a favour. I did find it a little slow and lacking pace in parts, but overall it’s pretty sharp with some good action, a brilliant cast and a great soundtrack.
The movie is an updated version of the 1957 Western based on a story by Elmore Leonard. Dan Evans (Bale) is a man who lives by the rules but has nothing to show for making an honest living. A former Union Army sharpshooter, Dan emerged from the Civil War with one less foot and a small compensation that allowed him to move his wife Alice (Mol) and two sons to a ranch in Arizona. But hopes of a new beginning have faded amid an ongoing drought, which is destroying his herd, and the rampant corruption of the West. As he is driven deeper into debt, with his family almost starving, Dan needs a stroke of luck.
Then notorious outlaw Ben Wade (Crowe) is captured. Southern Pacific Railroad representative Grayson Butterfield (Roberts) wants paid volunteers to join the posse that will take Wade to the town of Contention, a three-day journey that will see Wade loaded onto a train with a prison car bound for Yuma, in Arizona, where he will face a Federal Court. In an attempt to save his ranch and his family, Dan hires himself out to the posse. But even a shackled Ben Wade is no less dangerous. As time slips away on the perilous three-day journey, these two men from opposite ends of the moral spectrum find an unexpected kinship. By the time the train approaches Contention, Dan Evans' last-ditch attempt to save his ranch becomes a chance to redeem himself, in his family's eyes and his own.
The performances from the cast are second to none. Russell Crowe and Christian Bale were as good as ever — particularly Crowe, who encapsulates Wade’s double-edged persona perfectly. Ben Foster was also impressive as Wade’s right hand man Charlie Prince. He is ruthless and cruel, but is dedicated to his leader. It’s definitely a film for the “boys”, but girls don’t be afraid to give it a try, especially if your boy is paying.
SECOND OPINION | Craig McPherson ***** In Hollywood, it seems, all good things come in threes. One studio decides to release a vigilante film and two others follow with their own takes on the same theme. Given this, there’s no reason why the venerable western, a genre that Hollywood hasn’t revisited in years, should be any exception. What’s more, if James Mangold’s re-envisioning of 3:10 To Yuma is any indication, this year’s trio of westerns (soon to be followed by the Brad Pitt vehicle The Assassination of Jesse James, and the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men) may well yield some of the best entertainment in a while.
Based on the 1957 Glenn Ford/Van Heflin picture, Mangold embraces his subject matter with unabashed enthusiasm — along the way paying stylistic homage to oater icons John Ford and Sergio Leone — to deliver a movie that is as complex and character driven as it is packed with lead-spewing action. Russell Crowe brings the same brooding intensity he mined in 2003’s Master and Commander to the role of Ben Wade, the ruthless leader of a gang of outlaws that has made their mark robbing stagecoaches while foiling all efforts of the Pinkerton agency to both safeguard their booty and rein in the gang. Crowe’s black heart is counterbalanced by the quiet upstanding righteousness of Dan Evans (Christian Bale), who plays a down on his luck rancher trying to eke out a living for his family and avoid foreclosure by an unsympathetic land owner hell-bent on selling Evans’ land to the railroad. When Wade is finally corralled, Evans seizes the opportunity to hire himself out to the Pinkertons and transport Wade to a nearby town and put him on the 3:10 train to Yuma prison.
From there, the story of two men, each centred in a morally different universe, unfolds as Mangold piles layer upon layer of character depth upon each, while at the same time picking away at the bleakness of Wade’s fibre to slowly reveal glimmers of humanity. Supported by a top notch cast of veterans and newcomers such as Peter Fonda, Logan Lerman, Gretchen Mol, Alan Tudyk, Luke Wilson and the impressive Ben Foster (Alpha Dog) as psycho gunslinger and Wade’s right hand man Charlie Prince, Mangold delivers a rich tableau that speaks to the true, humble motivations of heroism and the ability for empathy to be found even in the darkest recesses of the self-centered human heart. Rounded off with a twangy score that evokes the spirit of Ennio Morricone, 3:10 to Yuma nicely ensconces itself as one of the great modern westerns, alongside Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, Kevin Costner’s Open Range and the best of Sergio Leone’s saddle sagas.