The fall movie season is upon us, with its promise of Oscar®-worthy releases and more thought provoking fare in general. In 3:10 to Yuma, the season has its first big contender for a mess of acting awards. At least four of the cast members will likely get more than a passing interest from the Academy and at least two more could deserve it The tale of a rancher who helps shepherd a vicious outlaw to a date with the hangman is, at heart, a simple one – but one that will haunt you for a long time.
3:10 to Yuma is about twenty-eight minutes longer than the 1957 original, though the amount of dialogue isn’t too much greater. The major difference is that this production takes a little longer to get to know its larger cast of characters as it subjects them to the dangers of escorting murderous stagecoach robber Ben Wade [Russell Crowe], to the train that will take him to Yuma Prison, where he is to be hanged.
As with the original short story, and the original Delmer Daves film, the plot is basically as simple as it gets: a man [in the short story, a deputy; in the films a struggling rancher] must get Wade from a small town to the train station in contention in time to put him on the 3:10 train to Yuma. In the Daves film, Wade was played by Glenn Ford in a great instance of counter-casting. The rancher, Dan Evans, was played by Van Heflin.
In James Mangold’s remake, not only is Evans [Christian Bale] a struggling rancher, he’s a sharpshooter veteran of the civil War who lost a chunk of a leg and was pensioned off with just enough money to start a ranch. There’s a drought and he will lose the ranch if he can’t come up with enough money to provide water for his herd. A neighboring landowner isn’t making things any easier. He’s stopped the flow of a river through his land, preventing it from reaching the Evans spread and his men have burned down the Evans barn.
When Evans heads into town to try to gain recompense, he inadvertently helps catch Ben Wade, who stayed behind after his gang left town because he felt the need to get together with the local barmaid. Since no one seems to want to have any part of taking Wade to catch the titular train, even for good money, Evans volunteers. Fortunately, he’s accompanied by a Pinkerton man [Dallas Roberts], a grizzled bounty hunter [Peter Fonda], the town veterinarian [Firefly’s Alan Tudyk] and one of the men who burned his barn down [Kevin Durand].
The main thrust of the piece is that Wade is thoroughly evil. He’s robbed forty-odd stagecoaches, leaving a trail of bodies behind him. Even though he knows his bible and has courtly manners, he’s not a nice man. Crowe plays him with a knowing twinkle in his eye and a deft subtlety that allows us to believe that he’s capable of anything [he kills one of his own gang when he allows a guard to put a stagecoach robbery in jeopardy].
Evans, on the other hand, is a good man come on hard times. He loves his wife, Alice [Gretchen Mol], and sons William [Logan Lerman] and Mark [Benjamin Petry], but has come to realize that love isn’t always the answer. Even hard work can be for naught in a world where drought and greed can tear a man’s life apart.
Where the film adds running time over the original is the way that it follows Wade and his guards on the trip to contention. In order to beat Wade’s gang to Contention, they take a short cut through lands appropriated by some of the Apaches who refused to settle for government reservations. Then they have to make their way through a railroad camp where the law, such as it is, is somewhat less than delighted to see them.
Along the way, Wade and Evans trade comments – each learning more about the other – until a kind of grudging respect forms. When the film reaches its final moments, and a bizarre twist occurs, Crowe and Bale have made their characters so believable, and the development of their relationship so real, that we buy it. Crowe, especially, brings a lazy certainty to Wade that comes across not as cockiness, but confidence. Bale’s version of the aw shucks hero is more of a well damn kinda guy – and its their verbal sparring that really elevates the film beyond the original.
Special mention should be of four exceptional supporting actors. Peter Fonda steals every scene he’s in as Byron McElroy, a bounty hunter haired by the Pinkerton Agency to capture Wade. Logan Lerman [Bobby on the short-lived WB series Bobby and Jack] is perfect as the eldest Evans boy, who follows his father and becomes a man. Alan Tudyk makes the vet, Doc Potter, a convincingly reluctant participant in the trip to Contention. And finally, Ben Foster [looking nothing like the Angel] is utterly absorbing as charlie Price, Wade’s loyal-unto-death second in command.
Mangold’s direction is as spirited as you could hope for in a Western. Whether he’s shooting panoramic countryside or a choker [close-up that cuts off just below the chin], every shot seems to have measured for a precise impact, and he has drawn Oscar®-worthy performances from the main players in his cast. The film looks gorgeous – even when Wade and Evans make their run for the train amidst the chaos.
After I saw 3:10 to Yuma, I re-watched the original. Much of the dialogue is the same, suggesting that it was taken from the Elmore Leonard story. What’s different, and from my point of view, better, is that the characters are given more room to breathe. Besides some added mayhem, the Mangold 3:10 uses its extra twenty-odd minutes to develop character – and that makes it something special.
Final Grade: A
Review Posted by Sheldon Wiebe
Originally Posted on 09/07/07