3:10 to Yuma
Film review by: Witney Seibold
I have to state right away that I have notoriously been unable to enjoy most westerns. I enjoy westerns that have sci-fi or fantasy elements to them (“Vampires,” “Back to the Future part III”), or set the conventions of the classic western on ear (“Brokeback Mountain” “Lust in the Dust”), but am usually alienated by the typical lawless world of the genre. I spend less time enjoying the rich moral wasteland of the early U.S., and more time fighting the urge to leap into the screen and bathe the filthy characters. It also doesn’t help that I see horses as large, dangerous, stinky monsters.
“3:10” to Yuma” is probably the first western, sans vampires, time traveling Deloreans, homosexuals, and evil wizards, I’ve earnestly enjoyed. The trappings of the classic western are still there: immoral bad guy in a black hat, hardworking rancher in a white hat, floozy bar mavens, racing across the desert on horseback, shootouts, gangs of criminals, et al, but director James Mangold (“Walk the Line,” “Identity”) has assembled such a strong cast, and allowed the story to play out so naturally, that a lot of the dull archetypal stuff is consumed by thrills, real moral interplay, and excitement.
That cast: Christian Bale plays the down-on-his-luck rancher Dale Evans. Bale keeps proving himself to be an excellent actor, and, in the role of Dan, gives us a growling, desperate man who is too proud to suffer openly, but too cautious to take real risks. Russell Crowe plays Ben Wade, the legendary outlaw heading up a wicked band of killers and thieves. He plays a man playing the role of an outlaw, who is smart but rotten. He kills several people during the course of the film, but we understand his final decisions, and see him opening up to Dan in a way he’s relieved to do. Ben Foster is a revelation as Wade’s first officer Charlie Prince who is probably a little in love with Ben. Peter Fonda shows up as an injured Pinkerton man, and lends the role a classical flair that only he could bring. Even smaller roles played by Alan Tudyk (as the wimpy and pragmatic veterinarian), Gretchen Mol (as Dan’s beleaguered wife), Dallas Roberts (as the clean cut cityboy offering money), and Logan Lerman (as Dan’s teenage son) are given weight and substance, and each of the performers gives their all.
The story, in brief: Ben Wade is captured. He must be transported a great distance to a train station, so he may be taken to Yuma prison. Dan desperately needs money to keep his suffering ranch open, having used up all the money the Union army gave him for the loss of a foot. Dan agrees to accompany Ben to the train station for a fee. With Ben’s gang in hot pursuit, and Ben constantly mocking and bribing them, a small group of do-gooders set out to hang the criminal.
The story is not what’s interesting though. It’s so simple, it could easily be transported to any genre and still be as straightforward and clear. What’s interesting is the performances of the talented cast, and the relationship between Dan and Ben. Dan is a man so good that, while occasionally tempted, needs desparately to be a hero in the mind of his family (to his wife: “I’ve seen the way the boys look at me, and the way you don’t”). Ben is too smart to be hanging out with the crowd he does, but is too good at being bad to stop. When he and Dan are forced together, Ben seems relieved that he finally has someone intellectual and morally forthright to talk to, even if it is a man bent on his destruction. Ben sees other “good” men, but resents their hypocrisy. Dan is finally a min he can talk to. Is it genuine regard for Dan, or an intellectual challenge? The ending conforms one or the other, but the interplay along the way make “3:10 to Yuma” a very good film.