The pleasures of pure-form genre storytelling, top-shelf acting and accomplished filmmaking all come together in 3:10 to Yuma, a dusty treat that’s certainly the most rousing Western in recent memory and probably the best since Unforgiven.
It’s a movie that fires on all cylinders and recalls Muhammad Ali’s old
assessment of his fighting strategy: “Float like a butterfly, sting
like a bee.” Full of quiet, lulling character moments, but visited as
well by tense, charged action passages, director James Mangold’s film tells a line-in-the-sand tale of at-odds wills that could easily be transposed to any number of settings.
who, along with his vicious gang of thieves and murderers, has plagued
the powerful Southern Railroad’s plans for expansion by preying on
their delivery routes and robbing their bank shipments. After his
latest strike leaves Byron McElroy (Peter Fonda, above right) wounded and a handful
of others dead, Wade holes up in a nearby town, intent on squeezing out
a few last ounces of pleasure with the fetching local barkeep (Vinessa Shaw) before escaping to Mexico.
When Wade is captured, however, a dilemma presents itself. Knowing that
Wade’s crew will be back to attempt to spring him, McElroy and
ineffectual railroad employee Grayson Butterfield (Dallas Roberts) make
the call that holing up and waiting for reinforcements — in effect
making targets of the entire town and all of its citizens — isn’t the
best plan. Volunteers are sought to help deliver Wade alive to an out-of-town depot and the scheduled train to Yuma two days hence, a
train that will take the killer to trial and return some small sense of
safety and normalcy to their region.
Partially crippled Civil War veteran Dan Evans (Christian Bale) steps forward. Struggling to survive on his drought-plagued ranch,
Evans feels quietly emasculated by a wife, Alice (Gretchen Mol), and
headstrong teenage son, William (Logan Lerman), who each in their own
way question his cautious nature and every decision. “I’m tired of the
boys going hungry, tired of the way they look at me, and tired of the
way that you don’t,” Evans tells Alice. “I’ve been standing on one leg
for three years waiting for God to do me a favor, and he ain’t.” Out on
the trail, Evans and Wade start to feel one another out, engaging in
restrained forms of psychological battle. A cool,
curious respect for Evans even springs forth in Wade, but with his outfit — led by the leering, psychopathic Charlie Prince (Ben Foster,
strengthening his power-play grab at becoming the Gary Oldman of his
generation) — on their trail, and violence and other dangers at every
turn, the odds of success for Evans’ mission soon take a dip southward,
culminating in a holed-up showdown with each man’s future at stake.
3:10 to Yuma isn’t what you’d call modern, per se, but neither
does it hew to what Rudy Giuliani might dub a strict constructionist
interpretation of the Western genre. Michael Brandt and Derek Haas’
reworking of Halsted Welles’ screenplay for the original film takes
only moderate liberties in dialogue, but adds in bits with Apache
warriors and transcontinental railroad workers that give the movie a
nicely fleshed-out feel and broader narrative backdrop. Meanwhile,
composer Marco Beltrami’s score (especially the opening theme) has a
glorious old-school ring to it. It’s most in the design and visual
telling of 3:10 to Yuma
that flared bits of modernization creep in. Mangold and cinematographer
Phedon Papamichael (a frequent collaborator of the director who’s also
captured disparate outdoor tones and palettes in movies like The Weather Man and Sideways)
beef up the action and infuse proceedings with a galloping energy.
Arianne Phillips’ costume design, meanwhile, faintly but effectively
conveys the notion of Wade’s gang as swaggering, rock-star seizers of
whatever they want; in a high school flick, they’d be the perfectly
coiffed jocks, in a horror film, vampires.
What most works about 3:10 to Yuma, though, is just the natural, slow-burn pull of its two stars, each working at the top of their games here. Crowe oozes edgy charisma in real life, so it’s no great shock
that he excels in a role requiring a bit of malevolent seduction.
Equally important, though, is Bale, who gives a superlative performance
as a broken family man awakening to the invigorating strength of a task
greater than him, and the power of a lasting lesson he can teach his son. For the full original review, from FilmStew, click here. To view the film’s trailer, click here.