2007 is seeing the return of the western to the big screen. It is a genre that has not had much play over the past few years, seemingly supplanted by the superhero genre. There was a time, decades past, that the western was a staple of the big screen. They featured big stars like John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Glenn Ford, Clint Eastwood. In more recent years we have had westerns starring the likes of Clint Eastwood (in an Oscar-winning return to the genre), Kevin Costner, Robert Duvall, Kurt Russell, and now Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Russell Crowe, and Christian Bale. Later this season will see the debut of a new Jesse James film with Pitt in the title role, but before we can get there, we have the small matter of 3:10 to Yuma to deal with.
In 1957 the Elmore Leonard short story was turned into a big screen adventure starring Van Heflin and Glenn Ford. I have not seen the film, but have heard that it was good, a judgment that I hope to assess for myself at some point. So, not having seen the original I encountered the remake without the potential baggage. Knowing that it is a remake, I was intrigued by the lack of outcry against it among the websites that I visit. It is curious to note that the movies that have the biggest hurdle to overcome when considering a remake are horror films and well regarded classics. Why is that? Is it because horror genre fans are that much more attached to their favorites? Could it be that films that are not already recognized by the majority as a classic are less susceptible to critical attention? Whatever the case, 3:10 to Yuma has arrived unscathed by the masses decrying its very creation. Rather, it delivers a first rate film carried to excellence by the performances of the two leads.
The center of 3:10 to Yuma is shared by two men. On one side is the troubled family man Dan Evans (Christian Bale) and on the other is famed bad guy Ben Wade (Russell Crowe). The story begins with Evans, a man who lost his leg in the Civil War and is struggling to make ends meet on his farm. He is trying to make the best life possible for his wife and two sons, but drought and debt are quickly backing him up against a wall. His wife worries about what they are going to do and seemingly has little faith in him, while his sons have differing opinions. His youngest, Mark (Benjamin Petry), looks up to him, while teenager William (Logan Lerman) wants his father to be a man of action like the outlaw Ben Wade whom he reads about in dime store novels.
Ben Wade leads a gang on robbery after robbery of stagecoaches bearing payroll cash. His target here is a coach carrying the payroll for the railroad company, a coach being protected by Byron McElroy (Peter Fonda) and hired Pinkerton guns. It is during this robbery that the paths of Evans and Wade cross, forever sealing their mutual fate.
Following the crossing of paths, Wade is found in the nearby town of Bisby. This is where he is captured with the intention of being taken to the town of Contention to be put on the 3:10 train to Yuma. To take him there the representative from the railroad, Mr. Butterfield (Grayson Roberts), needs a group of men to play transport guard. Evans, looking to make some money, offers his services. The rest of the film follows this band on their way to Contention with the remainder of Wade's gang, led by Wade's right hand man, psychotic Charlie Prince (Ben Foster), hot on their trail.
That is really all the plot you need to know. What makes the story so interesting and the film so good is the relationship that builds between Evans and Wade as they make the trip from Bisby to Contention — well, that and the first rate performances delivered by Bale and Crowe and many in the extended supporting cast.
Evans is a man who is on the brink of losing everything. He chooses to bring Wade to justice as a way to prove his worth to his wife and sons while also trying to survive in incredibly trying times. Christian Bale brings a great intensity and purpose to his performance. While, Wade is a man who is more than a mere outlaw, he is a man with a brain behind his eyes that is constantly in motion doing what is expected of a man in his position. Crowe adds depth to a role that could just as easily have been played as a straight-up bad guy. He brings an easiness to the role that not many other actors could. Just watch him as he controls the screen,delivering dialogue that is more than just words, bringing about reactions in those around him. It is fascinating to watch the interaction between Crowe and Bale.
Everything comes together not in a hail of bullets (though, there are gunfights to be sure), but in a moment of quiet conversation between the two which forces you to read between the lines to see what's going on. It is a quiet buildup to an explosive finale, a finale which was sealed from the moment the two crossed paths.
There is a third element to the core tale; that is Evans' son, William. The strong-willed teen follows his father out on the trail, joining the group transporting Wade. Wade delivers a telling line which gives insight to all three characters: "He ain't following you. He's following me." This line gives reason for William's presence, Wade's future, and Evans' desire to see justice delivered onto Wade.
The supporting cast is led by Peter Fonda as McElroy, a fiery portrayal of a man intent on putting an end to Wade's work. Ben Foster turns in a strong, if single note performance as Charlie Prince. This guy is insane as he will stop at nothing to free his boss. Alan Tudyk and Dallas Roberts round out the supporting cast as Doc Potter and Butterfield, respectively.
3:10 to Yuma is a much stronger outing for director James Mangold than his previous film, Walk the Line. There is considerably more style and energy to the look and feel of the film. It is grim, dirty, and very rough. This is a very good return to the big screen for the western.
Bottom line. If you are looking fro some of the strongest performances of the year, exciting action, high drama, and a touch of humor, look no further. If for nothing else, Crowe and Bale's performances are worth seeing on the big screen. This is a film that will take you on a ride and leave you drained at its conclusion.Powered by Sidelines