The “3:10 to Yuma” Train is Bound for Greatness
Westerns don’t appear much in movie theaters around these parts, or anywhere else nowadays, but “3:10 to Yuma” makes the case that when done right they are worth the wait. Every bit as good as 2003’s excellent “Open Range” and nearly as good as 1992’s Oscar winner “Unforgiven,” “3:10 to Yuma” is not just a tribute but an all-out celebration of the classic Western.
Fans of the genre will thrill at this remake of the generally little-known original that starred Glenn Ford and whose screenplay is based on a short story by legendary writer Elmore Leonard (whose novels “Hombre” and “Get Shorty” were also adapted to the big screen).
Great Westerns, unlike some genres (namely action, comedy films), rely significantly on the acting abilities of their actors who, regardless of playing the hero or the villain, need a certain iconic screen presence. Who better to cast then than Christian Bale and Russell Crowe–two actors of considerable grit and unwavering credibility in every role they play. Bale portrays Dan Evans, a downtrodden rancher whose barn is burned by a neighboring homesteader who wants him off his land. Suffering from a bad leg injured in the Civil War, he’s lost the confidence of his wife (Gretchen Mol) and even more obviously his older son William (Logan Lerman) who reads dime store novels about notorious bad men like Ben Wade (Crowe).
The two main characters meet by chance at the scene of a stagecoach robbery orchestrated by Wade and his band of miscreants–the most villainous being Charlie Prince (a jolting, vicious Ben Foster), Wade’s right-hand man and ardent defender.
Eventually, Evans is among a posse charged with bringing the captured Wade to the town of Contention where he will take the title-named train ride to be given a trial and presumably hung.
Filled with well-executed action sequences that comprise all the standard elements of the genre-dusty tumbleweed towns, bloodthirsty Apaches, fierce shootouts and galloping getaways–“3:10 to Yuma” is much more than a Saturday popcorn flick.
The compelling depth of character extracted by the actors must also be credited to director James Mangold (“Walk the Line”) who gives his cast plenty of opportunity to chew on the meaty dialogue. Bale is fiery and determined playing the imperfect hero that we root for while Crowe is a ruthless, charismatic villain that we can’t seem to root against.
Tellingly, the heart-pounding finale not only contains a showdown of penetrating unpredictability but is pre-staged by a conversation between Evans and Wade that reveals more about its characters in a few minutes than a summer’s worth of shallow sequels.
Westerns may be old-fashioned, but as old-school homage’s go, superb writing and compelling acting will never go out of style. Only the occasional use of anachronistic profanity takes the viewer out of an engrossing period piece that reinvigorates a classic genre. This year’s first obvious Oscar candidate.
Rated R for violence and some language.