3:10 to Yuma
Director : James Mangold
Screenplay : Halsted Welles and Michael Brandt & Derek Haas (based on a short story by Elmore Leonard)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2007
Stars : Russell Crowe (Ben Wade), Christian Bale (Dan Evans), Logan Lerman (William Evans), Dallas Roberts (Grayson Butterfield), Ben Foster (Charlie Prince), Peter Fonda (Byron McElroy), Vinessa Shaw (Emmy Nelson), Alan Tudyk (Doc Potter), Luce Rains (Marshal Weathers), Gretchen Mol (Alice Evans), Lennie Loftin (Glen Hollander), Rio Alexander (Campos), Johnny Whitworth (Darden)
In 3:10 to Yuma, Russell Crowe plays Ben Wade, the Old West version of the contemporary celebrity: charismatic, famous, and rotten to the core. Or is he? That is the central question around which this remake of the 1957 classic revolves, constantly teasing us with the question of what is good, what is evil, and, most importantly, what resides in the messy middle between those two convenient poles.
The ying to Wade's yang is Dan Evans (Chrisian Bale), a hard-working rancher who has been struck with a three-year string of bad luck to go with his lame leg, a lasting reminder of his days fighting for the Union in the Civil War. Evans has been struggling to make a living and provide for his wife (Gretchen Mol) and sons, but times are hard, especially when the local businessman sends hoodlums to burn down his barn because of unpaid debts. When Evans agrees to take Wade on a two-day journey to put him on the eponymous train ride to Yuma Prison, it is an act of desperation, partially to get a $200 payday courtesy of the railroad company that has been the victim of Wade's antics, and partly to convince his 14-year-old son William (Logan Lerman) that he is not the loser he thinks he is.
Working from a script by Michael Brandt and Derek Haas, director James Mangold does everything he can to reinvigorate the Old West for modern times, an effort most recently indulged by Kevin Costner in Open Range (2003), but has been ongoing since the early 1990s when Clint Eastwood turned the genre on its ear in Unforgiven (1992). Brandt and Haas have given Mangold a solid thematic structure by adding depth and weight to what could have essentially been a beat-the-clock thriller. Mangold has worked in this territory before; the film is particularly reminiscent of Cop Land, Mangold's 1997 breakthrough in which a decent sheriff realizes that all his idols are corrupt. Something similar happens in 3:10 to Yuma, except it is William realizing that his father's decency is ultimately more dynamic than all of Wade's stagecoach-robbing exploits.
By amplifying the father-son dynamic, which was not present in the original film, 3:10 to Yuma becomes as much a story about the power of role models as it is a thriller. William can't help but hide his admiration for Wade; the very first shot shows that he has a deck of cards by his bed lionizing “The Deadly Outlaw,” and when he witnesses Wade gun two men down (one of them part of his own gang), his words are breathless: “He's so fast.” Evans, on the other hand, is struggling to make a legitimate living, and for that he suffers in his son's eyes, something he aims to correct by bringing Wade to justice.
Thus, the heart of the action also has heart, which keeps the film both engaging and insightful. It doesn't hurt having Crowe and Bale in the leads. Crowe has played that fine line between good and bad in previous films, and he brings just the right level of rakish charm to a man whose very existence hinges on his belief in his own rotten core. Bale, on the other hand, exerts a convincing level of gritty conviction that allows him to balance between everyman and reluctant hero. His bravery stems from a recognizable need, hence we believe that he would be the only man willing to see Wade on the final stretch of his journey.
He is also contrasted with those around him, which the film sees in various shades of weakness and corruption, whether it be the greedy railroad man (Grayson Butterfield) who cares infinitely more for the money Wade has stolen than the people he has killed, or the townspeople who are willing to subvert law and order for a little quick cash. Some of the characters are uniformly bad, particularly Charlie Prince (Ben Foster), Wade's psychotic second-in-command, while others, like Peter Fonda's grizzled Pinkerton, are a mix of the good and the bad. In the end, what makes 3:10 to Yuma work despite a rather preposterous final act, is that it refuses to see anything in terms of moral simplicity, despite the presence of black and white hats.
Copyright ©2007 James Kendrick
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