3:10 to Yuma
Once the quintessential American genre, the western has fallen on hard times the past few decades. But every once in a while a film comes along that reminds you why the western is our national epic and Hollywood’s greatest tradition of popular cinema.
3:10 to Yuma is such a film.
Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is a poor rancher trying to eke out a living for himself and his family on parched, barren land in the Arizona territory. A man above reproach, Dan is nonetheless discovering that integrity alone does not put food in his boys’ stomachs. Nor does it alleviate the distain of his eldest son Will (Logan Lerman), who is more fascinated with dime novel bandits than with his father’s honorable intensions. As the drought and the encroaching railroad conspire to take his land, Dan stoically holds out against hope that he can save his modest dream and regain the respect of those he loves most.
Fate intervenes with the capture of the notorious outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe), a rogue whose violent exploits are the stuff of Will’s cheap novels. A natural leader, Wade commands the unflinching loyalty of his ruthless gang who will stop at nothing to rescue him. When a railroad representative offers two hundred dollars to anyone willing to escort Wade on a three–day trek to the town of Contention and a waiting prison train bound for Yuma, Dan volunteers for the posse. He desperately needs the money.
But even shackled and under guard, Wade is a lethal menace. He possesses an astute insight into the weaknesses of human nature, a talent he exploits on his captors with deadly precision. Even so, Dan and Wade form a peculiar camaraderie on the treacherous trail. In the end, the upright rancher and the outlaw will face a baptism of fire together, leading to a brutal and bullet-ridden redemption and an unexpected, shocking penance.
Chief among Yuma’s many strengths is its compelling and powerful cast. Crowe plays the black-hatted Wade as a man grown wise by his life of wickedness. His masculine gentlemanliness is no sham, even though it masks a titanic lethality that strikes without warning. Bale is, by turns, pathetic and indestructible, a man worn down to the quick, but resolute in his convictions — even in the face of hopelessness.
The supporting turns are vibrant, including the great Peter Fonda as a leathery, hard-as-nails bounty hunter. But if there is any performance which will set audiences abuzz, it is Ben Foster as the sadistic, lightning-draw killer Charlie Prince, Wade’s second in command. With his albino coloring, pinched features and ice-cold stare, Foster’s elegantly monstrous Prince has an intense loyalty to his boss that borders on homoeroticism.
3:10 to Yuma, a remake of the 1957 film by the same name, is director James Mangold’s first film since his Oscar-nominated Walk the Line. Once again he proves his knack for gripping stories driven by compelling characters. His camera paints with John Ford’s luxurious brush, capturing the promise of vast vistas and the lawless bedlam of frontier towns. He has a solid eye and ear for atmosphere and pacing. The editing builds maximum tension, while Marco Beltrami’s modern-tinged score swells at all the right places. The result is a film of explosive, Peckinpah-esque action and engrossing post-modern, psychological duels.
3:10 to Yuma is riveting, exciting and rare — a thinking person’s western.