'3:10 to Yuma' Provides Suspenseful Tale

Many of this summer's theatrical releases have been boring, or worse. The new 3:10 to Yuma, however, is an Oscar-worthy film — reminding us why we love Westerns so much in the first place.
Allison-taylor

James Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma succeeds on so many levels that I predict it will earn Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and Cinematography. It’s that good.

Beyond its panoramic views, solid acting and technical achievements, it is the story itself and the human drama within it that make Yuma such a great film.

Yuma is a remake of a 1957 classic Western directed by Delmer Daves and starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin as the bad and the good. I haven’t seen the 1957 version, but this remake may be one that actually surpasses the original.

The film is based on a short story by screenwriter and master storyteller Elmore Leonard, who is still writing stories today at age 82. The current script, by Derek Haas and Michael Brandt, follows the 1957 version closely enough that the original screenwriter, Halsted Welles, is still given credit even though he is no longer alive. One difference, however, is that the remake has a modernized level of violence that a movie of the 50s could not have contained.

Yuma stars Russell Crowe and Christian Bale as notorious outlaw and desperate rancher, respectively, whose lives become fatefully intertwined and changed forever. One man has no need for honor, while the other wants honor most of all.

Russell Crowe as outlaw Ben Wade
Crowe is Ben Wade — a ruthless killer and thief who leads an equally nefarious gang on crime sprees throughout the West. In an early scene, we see his gang rob a stagecoach, and realize how easily he can take a human life.

Wade is the man you should hate, but part of you longs for his redemption. He is too handsome to be pure evil, and he is an artist, which means he must have a soul somewhere. Yet he chooses to saunter through the world without a conscience, discarding his pencil sketches as easily as the lives he takes.

Christian Bale is Dan Evans, a one-legged Civil War veteran and rancher who is struggling to pay his rent and feed his family. In the opening scene, he watches helplessly as his landlord’s men burn down his barn. Evans’s life, like the barn, is crumbling, and he doesn’t know how to hold it together.

When Wade is captured by the Sheriff, Evans says he will take $200 to help escort Wade to prison and bring him to justice. He knows the dangers of the job, but he feels he has nothing to lose. He is blinded by his desperation.

Crowe’s and Bale’s performances are flawless, which make their characters’ developments all the more powerful. There are many notable secondary characters, as well. Ben Foster is astoundingly dark as Charlie Prince, the default gang leader who is determined to free Wade. One wonders if he is not in love with Wade, and this subtext plays out until the very end.

Christian Bale and Russell Crowe
in 3:10 to Yuma
Logan Lerman, playing Dan’s son Will, also delivers a brilliant performance as the headstrong and embittered son in need of a hero. When Will sees Wade shoot a man, he says to his father excitedly, “He’s quick!” — which is an honest, if not honorable, reaction. In many ways, the story is about how Dan earns back the respect of his son.

3:10 to Yuma is one of those films that movie buffs love to analyze — it’s rich in symbolism, foreshadowing, and deeply developed characters.

Great movies are often simple stories that involve complex characters. They leave us a little better able to distinguish between the good and the bad, both in others and in ourselves.

Yuma reminds us why we love film, and why we especially love a good Western.

You can watch the trailer for this movie at apple.com.

Allison Taylor studied art history at the University of Florida. Currently she studies indexing, writes freelance, and works in a digital media department at Harcourt in Orlando. Her hobbies include painting, poetry, and freshwater aquariums. Her regularly-updated blog is at poetics.info.

3 comments from readers  

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Everything said about the acting is certainly accurate. The performances are stellar. My problem with the film is, perhaps, a subtle one.

[SPOILER ALERT]

At the end of the film it is the moral man who is dead in a pool of his own blood. He has purchased respect from his son and family at this price. The immoral man is alive on his way to Yuma seemingly compliant to his own demise. However, he whistles for his horse and you can't help but predict a different outcome in view of his life choices.

I worry that the message left with the audience is that charisma trumps honor and that artful conversation and literacy counterbalance brutality and homicidal hedonism.

The Christian Bale character is weak, disrespected and driven to a desperate act of conscience. The Russell Crowe character is above such petty concerns as human life and property.

There is a scene that sums this up rather well. The murderous prisoner (Crowe) is eating with the family of Evans (Bale) and he charms the son and wife with elite repartee; practically mesmerizing her into ordering her husband to cut the steak of Crowe so that he can better enjoy his meal! Humiliated, Bale complies with her request!!

There may not be a moral message intended or maybe there is and it is an opposite one. It just doesn't seem to come across that way in the end. Self-sacrifice is a dismal moral choice for a man doing the right thing.
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The excessive violence of the this new version may be the picture's undoing. I would suggest that only a psychopath would be so willing to murder as many in cold blood as the villian, Ben Wade does. A psychopath, by definition, has no conscience, which makes his empathy with the hero, Dan Evans, ring false.

Also, Dan Evans' behaviour seems inconsistent when he foolishly turns his back on Wade's murderous gang at the climax.

Did I enjoy the picture despite this? Yes. It works well as an investigation of the concept of courage and of motivation for behaviour. The character of Evans is well developed as is his relationship with his son. This relationship and the changes it undergoes are superbly done, as are the minor characters including the real villian, the gang's second in command.
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I appreciate the thoroughness of your review. I was able to see this film, and while I really did like it, something felt off.

It's as if the moral complexities of a "Unforgiven" were put upon the characters here that decidedly are pretty black and white, and it's when they turn that shade of "Unforgiven" gray, that, I felt, the strings that held their characters together start to unravel.

I didn't understand why Wade would go against these men that he obviously loved enough for them to honor him so. He saved them, according to one sub-character villain. So maybe that's it, maybe it didn't settle completely with me on initial viewing, but upon looking back on it, I can see how that would make sense.

He is a good person at heart. He has a soul. He knows he deserves to die. It's hard to see that though in the theatre, even leaving the movie I was confused as to his motivations. The film presents itself as a very old school John Wayne kind of western, but it isn't.

Besides the character gripes, I also thought that Evan's last-minute revelation about his foot felt a bit forced, but I see how it balances out the yin-yang characters of himself and Wade.

Everything else about the movie, to me, was splendid. A great use of the New Mexico desert.
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