Directed by: James Mangold
Premise: Remake of the 1957 film. Troubled rancher Dan Evans (Christian Bale) agrees to help local law enforcement escort outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) to a train stop, sending Wade to Yuma penitentiary.
What Works: 3:10 to Yuma takes its characters on a journey through the Western myth, encountering many of the facets of the Western genre and critiquing them along the way. As the posse takes Wade to the train stop, they encounter the ugly truths of the Western frontier and this allows Evans and Wade to pontificate on the nature of progress and the darker side of westward expansion. As they do, the film is able to study the character of the two men, especially Wade as he exposes the hypocrisy of law enforcement in a lawless land where natives were wiped out by some of the very people escorting him to the gallows. At the same time, Evans struggles to keep his integrity in the face of Wade’s very convincing speeches. This kind of self-conscious critique about the Western myths are nothing new and were seen before in Unforgiven and The Searchers, but 3:10 to Yuma is able to distinguish itself among the post-Unforgiven Westerns by reversing the theme of these other films. Where Clint Eastwood’s character in Unforgiven and Ray Winstone’s character in The Proposition find themselves tainted by their work with outlaws and their morality is in tatters by the end, the push and pull between Crowe and Bale’s characters entertains the possibility that a man could maintain his integrity despite the hypocrisy and evil all around him. Crowe and Bale capitalize on this and throughout the story, the plot and situations allow for the characters to grow with Evans struggling to maintain his sense of right and wrong and Wade struggling to maintain this cynicism in the face of goodness. The film ultimately comes out with a more optimistic message, although the optimism comes with the cost of blood.
What Doesn’t: Some Western fans may find 3:10 to Yuma a bit too violent and a bit too derivative. Although the film does go for some new approaches, it is still a lot of the same material that has been seen in other genre pictures, even though it does that material very well.
Bottom Line: 3:10 to Yuma is not quite as good as Unforgiven or The Proposition, but the performances are so strong and it is so thoughtful about what it is doing that the film earns its place among the best contemporary Westerns.
Episode: #156 (September 9, 2007)