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.
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.
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.