Saturday, 8 December 2018

Movie Review: 3:10 To Yuma (2007)


A western about two men at the opposite ends of the moral spectrum, 3:10 To Yuma finds the right balance between well-staged action and character-driven discourse.

After serving as a sharpshooter in the Civil War, Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is now a near-bankrupt cattle farmer with a lame leg. He is trying to live his life the right way and look after his wife Alice (Gretchen Mol) and two boys, including teenager William (Logan Lerman). While rounding up cattle one day, Dan stumbles upon charismatic outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) and his gang robbing a rail company payroll stagecoach.

The heist is violent but successful, with Pinkerton agent Byron McElroy (Peter Fonda) the only stagecoach survivor. Ben allows Dan and his sons to walk away. At the nearby small town of Bisbee, Ben dallies with a saloon girl and is arrested, while the rest of his gang, including ruthless second-in-command Charlie Prince (Ben Foster), get away. Dan joins a small team assembled by the Marshal to escort Ben to Contention, where he can be placed on the 3:10 train to Yuma to face justice. Along the way, Ben does all he can to escape, and to psychologically wear down Dan.

A remake of the classic 1957 western, the 2007 version of 3:10 To Yuma is a worthy retelling of the delicate story. Directed by James Mangold, the film does unnecessarily bloat by about 30 minutes to a two hour running time, stretching the narrative limits of what is essentially a two-person character tug-of-war. But otherwise Mangold delivers plenty of well-staged action to punctuate the slowly evolving tension between rancher and outlaw.

While the original had a small-scale and intimate feel, Mangold opens up the film with more outdoor incidents. This works to create additional openings for shoot-outs and attempted escapes, but also strains credibility with convoluted script machinations to reconnect Evans and Wade every time they are separated.

A western primarily exploring two competing attitudes towards carving a frontier livelihood is fully reliant on the central performances, and Mangold is ably assisted by Christian Bale and particularly Russell Crowe in fine form. Bale is steady and intense and finds Evans' trauma as a man who may never gain the respect of his sons. Escorting a dangerous prisoner is a final opportunity to leave a legacy, a dance with the devil filled with danger and temptations.

3:10 To Yuma finds Crowe close to his creative peak, and the actor creates in Ben Wade an irresistible leader, combining smarts with ferocity. Crowe unleashes oodles of confidence within Wade and a quiet contempt for authority and anyone who claims the world is a fair place. And yet Crowe allows subtle hints to seep out suggesting he envies Evans' attempt at a building a domestic life the outlaw will never get to experience.

The dialogue exchanges between the two men are exceptionally well written, teasing out the power stalemate between the meek man carrying the rifle against the prisoner with all the brashness.

The film ends with an admirable if wild climax, one rancher and one crime boss carving out new destinies under a hail of bullets. As westerns go 3:10 To Yuma makes it to the station on time, carrying some excess weight but plenty of flamboyance.






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