3:10 to Yuma (2007) dir. James Mangold
Starring: Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Ben Foster
On DVD this week is “3:10 to Yuma”, featuring megastars Russell Crowe and Christian Bale and directed by “Walk the Line’s” James Mangold. It’s a remake of the 1955 Delmar Daves film adapted from the Elmore Leonard novel of the same name. It’s a character-film about a vicious outlaw who faces off against an ‘everyman’ rancher when he gets involved in a dangerous mission to transport him to prison. The film begins slowly but then gathers great steam resulting in a surprisingly touching finale. It’s not one of the best westerns ever made, but it improves on the original and showcases some of the finest performances this year.
The film opens with the quiet and assuming rancher, Dan Evans (Christian Bale), under attack by the local railroad developer. They burn his barn to the ground as a forceful warning to vacate his property to make way for his near-coming railroad. His young teenage son, William (Logan Lerman), disrespects his father, who is crippled from a war injury, for failing to take a stand for his family and fight back like a real man.
Russell Crowe plays Ben Wade, a wanted outlaw who leads a vicious gang of evil-doers. After stealing $10,000 from a stagecoach he becomes the target of the Pinkerton authorities. While relaxing in a small town, Wade slips up and gets caught, but the fight has only begun. Wade must be transported undercover of his menacing posse to the train station to catch the 3:10 train to Yuma Prison. Evans who happens to be in town confronting the railroad developers offers to help for a fee of $200. This money will help him through the terrible drought that has plagued his land and save his family from financial ruin. And so begins the battle of wills on the journey to Yuma. Evans is a tough match for Wade, and resists all his psychological scheming and escape attempts. But when his son unexpected hitches a ride, suddenly there’s more at stake. Evans’ fears and internal demons are tested to the extreme, physically and mentally as the clock ticks down to 3:10.
Christian Bale plays light as effectively as heavy, and is fantastic as the emasculated rancher/father. The relationship with his son is the heart of the film. At first I rolled my eyes when the ambitious youngster disobeys father’s orders and follows the Wade’s coach. I’ve seen this scene a thousand times before. But Mangold plays the dynamic intelligently. William is at first attracted to Wade’s active forthrightness. Since his father failed to stop the railroad developer from terrorizing his family, he feels the protection of the family will eventually fall to him. But as the film moves along they become closer as a family and in the end William realizes the courageous sacrifice his father has made for his family.
Russell is also very good as the maniacal yet honourable outlaw. Glenn Ford played Wade in the original, but Crowe trumps Ford’s performance who originally played him just as ‘charming’. Crowe effectively adds much needed menace to give his character weight. Crowe wasn’t stretched too far in the role though until the end. At a key moment in the film, Crowe, standing at gunpoint, and framed terrifically in a long medium shot. Viewers who’ve seen the film will know what I mean. The prolonged unspoken look of fear on his face so palpable and is the mark of a great actor.
The discovery in the film though is actor Ben Foster (“X-Men 3” and “Six Feet Under”) who plays Charlie Prince, Wade’s right hand man, one of the great bad guys in recent movie history. He is so loyal and determined to rescue Wade nothing will stop him from reaching the train station by 3:10. He is not so much a character as he is a robotic “Terminator”-like monster - petal to the metal, full throttle bad-ass.
“3:10 to Yuma” bests the original by adding the subplot of Evans’ son (who is left at the ranch in the original), but Mangold and writers Michael Brandt and Derek Haas add several action scenes to the second act. This quickens the pace - a fault which plagued the original. Surprisingly though the visual look of the film was disappointing. Delmar Daves’ black and white film had a magnificently beautiful widescreen anamorphic look. It was perfectly framed and composed and edited. This new version seems stolid and perfunctory. As well, Marco Beltrami’s music was uninspired ‘made-for-television’ material.
Overall “3:10 to Yuma” is a great on character, average on action, but a good solid modern western and must for fans of the genre. Enjoy.
FYI. Here’s my review of the original film. Click HERE.