3:10 To Yuma

September 25, 2007

A remake of the classic 1957 western, based originally on a short story by Elmore Leonard written in 1952, 3:10 To Yuma tells the story of infamous outlaw Ben Wade (Crowe) being escorted by a group of men including bankrupt rancher Dan Evans (Bale) from the small town of Bisby to Contention, where Wade will be put on the 3:10 train to Yuma prison. 

  It’s a classic western story, with the good-versus-evil plot customary to most films in the genre present and correct, but don’t mistake this for simply another western, or worse, another remake.  For James Mangold, director of Girl, Interrupted and Walk The Line, has made a powerful, brutal film that is not only a more than worthy remake, but stands up in its own right as a character based tale of power, morality and redemption. The two leads are the heart of the story.  Wade is confident and cold-hearted, Evans the opposite, and only joining the escorting posse in order to feed his wife Alice (Gretchen Mol) and his children.  But as the journey progresses, a rapport builds between them. 

Interestingly, Stuart Beattie wrote the final draft of 3:10 To Yuma, and he wrote the screenplay for Michael Mann’s Collateral, in which Tom Cruise’s hitman builds a similar sort of connection between himself and cab driver Jamie Foxx.  Wade may be a ruthless criminal and killer, but he is man with principals: pride and honour are not his defining characteristics, but through his twinkling eyes shines possibly a glint of something not all bad. 

And it’s very well done.  It keeps you guessing as to what will happen next, as Wade, Evans and co continue their rough ride towards Contention, Wade’s men, led by Charlie Prince (Ben Foster) are always getting closer, and they will stop at nothing to get him free again.  Complicating matters further is Evans’ eldest son William (Logan Lerman), who against his father’s wishes manages to join the group.  “He’s not protecting you, he’s following me” Wade tells Evans.  And he’s right: William is fascinated by, almost in admiration of, Wade and his personality, in the same why he is almost embarrassed by his dad, and adds another interesting layer to the story. Mangold is very much an actor’s director. 

Angelina Jolie and Reese Witherspoon won Oscar’s for their performances in his the two aforementioned films, and especially in Girl, Interrupted, the sum of the uniformly excellent performances far outweighed the quality of the film itself.  And in 3:10 To Yuma, the story manages to keep up with the acting.  Crowe and Bale are perfect casting, matching each other blow for blow.  Both intense and thoroughly human, they are backed up with exceptional supporting turns.  Fonda as the grizzled McElroy is the epitome of an ageing but still hard-as-nails born survivor.  Mol, so brilliant in the title role of the biopic The Notorious Bettie Page, is here very effective in a small role.  Foster is very, very good as the psychotic Charlie Prince and Lerman brings a high level of intensity to William, desperate to show that he has turned from a boy to a man.  Tudyk as well is quietly excellent as the nervous doctor. 

Mangold perhaps can’t film the action as well as Mann or Greengrass, but the stunningly violent set pieces are still stirring. To be honest, I couldn’t find an awful lot wrong with this film.  Technically proficient, superbly acted.  And Crowe and Bale locking horns is something to savour.

 THE CRUNCH:

4.5/5 Accurate gunslingers

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