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3:10 to Yuma (2007)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Once Upon A Time In Arizona"
4 stars

On the rare occasions these days when a filmmaker is brave or foolhardy enough to take a stab at the western, the resulting film generally falls into one of two categories–either they take a revisionist approach that explores and often explodes the conventions of the genre (“The Wild Bunch,” “Silverado” and “Unforgiven” are among the best of the particular strain) or they make the less common choice to just embrace the genre trappings wholeheartedly and make a straightforward oater of the kind that could have been made back when such films were regularly cranked out by Hollywood once upon a time. (“Open Range” and “The Proposition” are good examples of this type.) “3:10 To Yuma” is a very good example of the latter, both in the sense that it is a non-nonsense western that has nothing on its mind than to tell a good story utilizing the trappings of the genre and in the sense that it is a superior example of the genre–a tense, exciting and exceedingly well-crafted exercise anchored by the solid performances of stars Russell Crowe and Christian Bale.

Based on the 1953 short story by Elmore Leonard (which was previously filmed in 1957 by Delmer Daves, the film kicks off by telling the parallel stories of two men of vastly different temperaments and ethical codes. The first is Dan Evans (Bale, in the role formerly occupied by Van Heflin), a simple but honest rancher who lost a foot fighting in the Civil War and who is about to lose his home to the bankers after a bad season–although he is a proud and decent man and a loving husband and father, these are not the kind of qualities that especially impress his older son, William (Logan Lerman), who only sees him as a crippled loser who won’t fight for anything. The other is Ben Wade (Crowe, taking over for Glenn Ford), a ruthlessly efficient criminal who has been staging a series of successful stagecoach robberies with the help of his violent gang, especially vicious right-hand man Charlie Prince (Ben Foster). However, we get a sense early on that while Wade is clearly a bad guy, he may not be as irredeemable as he seems–when he has a chance to dispatch a Pinkerton detective (Peter Fonda) who has been pursuing him after getting the drop on him during his latest robbery, he chooses to allow him to live. Under normal circumstances, the paths of Evans and Wade would never cross but here, they meet up twice–the first time comes when Wade “borrows” some of Evans’ cattle to effect his latest robbery and then relieves the farmer and his sons, who have gone out in search of their missing steers, of their horses in order to make his getaway to a nearby town. The second and more fateful one occurs when the two meet up in a local saloon–Wade is there to meet up with the rest of his gang and Evans has arrived after an unsuccessful meeting with the man holding the title to his property–and Wade finds himself so taken with Evans and his rigid moral code that he becomes distracted long enough for the local police to put him under arrest.

The plan is to take Wade to a nearby town, where he will be placed on the titular train to stand trial and presumably hang for his misdeeds. This is easier said than done because the transport is far more treacherous than it sounds–it is a few days away through Apache country and if that weren’t enough, Wade’s gang will presumably be in pursuit to spring him the first chance that they get–and few people in town are willing to take the risk of joining the party that will escort the prisoner, even when the stagecoach rep offers $200 per person. However, since that money will pay off his debts, Evans agrees to help with the transfer. As expected, the party is beset by Indians and Wade’s gang but the real threat to Evans and his resolve comes from Wade himself–he delights in giving his captor a psychological going-over in order to test his resolve, one that intensifies when William decides to join the group. What surprises Wade is that Evans is absolutely unyielding in his determination to do the job that he has taken on–he refuses a large cash bribe to simply let Wade go but when Wade temporarily escapes and is captured by the vengeful head of a nearby mining town, he risks his life to storm the town and save his prisoner from a lynch mob. Even when the group arrives in Brisbee and the town is set upon by Wade’s men, who offer $50 to any person in town who will aid them in springing their leader, Evans will not waver even after the stagecoach rep himself offers to give him his full pay if he will just let Wade go and it is his steely resolve that finally touches Wade in a way that spurs him into some unanticipated behavior.

“3:10 To Yuma” was directed by James Mangold, a director whose career has skedaddled between the highs of “Heavy” and “Walk the Line,” the lows of “Kate & Leopold” and “Identity” and the mediums of “Copland” and “Girl, Interrupted.” This is a filmography that could be described as either eclectic or uneven, depending on ones point of view, but I would be willing to say that while “Walk the Line” may well be his best film, this is perhaps his best work as a filmmaker to date. Perhaps realizing that the source material was still as strong as it was a half-century ago, Mangold has resisted the urge to try to inflate it into something inappropriately grandiose in order to put his own personal stamp on it. Instead, he has made a lean and efficient film in which the action sequences have, for the most part, a gritty realism that stands in marked contrast to the extended video game byplay that we get in to many action scenes these days. (The opening stagecoach robbery and the method by which Wade’s gang acquires the information about where their boss is heading are especially effective.) At the same time, he demonstrates the same amount of interest and care in the scenes involving the emotional and psychological firepower as well–as impressive as the gun battles are, it is the intellectual battle between Wade and Evans over the implicit idea of what truly makes a man that gives the film its true center without ever becoming too pretentious or irritating.

Of course, a lot of that is also due to the strong and effective performances from the two leads. After spending the last few years of his career trying to develop a gentler on-screen persona with mixed results (the sight of him as a spoiled Yuppie learning to love the simple pleasures of life from his lavish vineyard in “A Good Year” is one that I won’t easily forget, no matter how hard I try), the role of Ben Wade allows him to slip back into the smart-but-tough mode that he demonstrated in the likes of “L.A. Confidential” and “Gladiator” and the result is a welcome sight indeed–he is eerily convincing as an unrepentant criminal who can be perfectly charming and persuasive at one moment and then transform into a violent sociopath so quickly that you don’t even notice the change until it is too late. This is the kind of role that can overly dominate a film without an equally strong opposite number and Christian Bale more than fits the bill–he may not seem like the most convincing rancher as the film opens but we instantly buy the resolve and determination that he brings to the part of Evans. Together, Crowe and Bale make a great pair of opposites and while their work here may not find them accepting awards anytime soon, their performances are as strong as either has ever given before. Beyond those two, Mangold gets a lot of mileage out of his supporting cast as well–Ben Foster is appropriately demonic as Wade’s psycho sideman, Gretchen Mol gets a lot of mileage out of her few scenes as Evans’ wavering wife and the mere presence of Peter Fonda as one of the lawmen invests the role with the kind of authority that few other actors could convincingly pull off. (Just to hear him speak the film’s title out loud at one point is worth the price of admission all by itself.)

“3:10 To Yuma” will probably not go down as a classic western anytime soon–the ending, while slightly different from the earlier film, winds up going a little too far over-the-top for its own good, though I did appreciate the introduction of a deputy named Sam Fuller–but it is a damn good one nevertheless. It honors both the genre and the original film without doing harm to either while containing enough of its own virtues to allow it to stand alone as its own entity. Whether it will somehow spark a revival in the western as a viable commercial entity is rather doubtful–even Clint Eastwood himself was unable to spark a full-scale revival in the wake of “Unforgiven”–but for those who can remember when such films regularly played on the big screen, it will serve as a reminder of what they used to be like while those too young to have experienced such a thing first-hand finally have a chance to see for themselves what the fuss is all about.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16359&reviewer=389
originally posted: 09/07/07 00:20:35
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User Comments

1/13/19 Mike Amazing. Loved it. Loved Ben Wade. 5 stars
9/13/17 morris campbell great western remake 5 stars
1/22/14 Charles Tatum Outstanding remake, a modern classic 5 stars
4/29/09 Jessica Hurst This movie was friggin awesome. The guys wre really hott too. 5 stars
1/12/09 Anonymous. finally a good western. 4 stars
12/20/08 noops.... their wrists move fast ...they r westerners 5 stars
9/13/08 Annie G Probably now my favorite western. 3 stars
9/07/08 Halad65 A great western. Bale and Crowe are great. 5 stars
7/06/08 John Millheim Good western, Crowe does a great job 5 stars
6/13/08 Michele Loved it, and I totally got the ending. Ben's remarks at the beginning give the ending away 5 stars
5/28/08 MDH-Matt One of '07's best. Crowe+Bale=Dream. Too bad Ben Foster steals the movie 5 stars
4/12/08 mark madsen this is a great movie. 5 stars
4/03/08 Colleen Cousineau My husband loved it, I don't care for westerns. 3 stars
3/28/08 R.W. Welch Nifty western until the finale which gets a little out-of-control. 4 stars
3/14/08 KingNeutron Saw it and was really disappointed - any Louis Lamour book is better than this junk. 2 stars
3/07/08 Phil M. Aficionado Strong cast and superb production values; the action and morals are extras 4 stars
3/02/08 Servo Not bad, but the ending just feels false. 3 stars
3/01/08 mormor613 Emotional rollercoaster ... superbly done 5 stars
2/06/08 Monday Morning Man, was this thing overrated. Many TV shows are much better. 3 stars
1/29/08 mr.mike Crowe and the Morricone-inspired score are aces 5 stars
1/17/08 Jason The plot makes is a nonsensical cliche of reatrdation 2 stars
1/08/08 action movie fan slightly above cliche western-not very exciting but i don,t care for westerns anyway 2 stars
1/07/08 Double M Those who think people are only extreme good\evil won't get the ending. A+ Cast. Brilliant. 5 stars
11/11/07 Alec Started out on the right foot, but the ending ruins the whole film. 2 stars
10/23/07 William Goss Thoroughly solid remake, with Fonda arguably leading a very good ensemble. 4 stars
10/07/07 Bert Kaplan Great movie; powerful,thoroughly engrosing, fades a bit at the end though 5 stars
9/25/07 damalc can't think of a movie with bale or crowe that i didn't like 5 stars
9/24/07 raimey wright Outstanding-Russell Crowe now rides along with the greats of the old west.SEE IT!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
9/22/07 Edler Very disappointing- The story is not believable and the characters are not likeable. 3 stars
9/21/07 Ole Man Bourbon Good movie, stupid ending. 4 stars
9/21/07 MP Bartley Mangold knows his genres inside out. Bale and Crowe outstanding. 4 stars
9/17/07 Quigley A pretty entertaining Western carried by Crowe and Bale. Not enough gunfights and action 4 stars
9/16/07 Private Deliberate, classy morality themed western based drame. Solid acting 4 stars
9/14/07 Bopo Very disappointing. A good theme that needed a better story to tell it. 3 stars
9/13/07 ciscokid Plot had too many holes and ending that makes no sense, Peter Fonda's character was great 2 stars
9/11/07 Elizabeth Nice to see a good western again! 4 stars
9/10/07 mark just another over the top shoot em up 3 stars
9/09/07 Jim Dumb. Bad guy wasn't loved by mom & shoot the bad guys standing in the street! 1 stars
9/08/07 Russ This movie looks awesome 5 stars
9/08/07 Joe Smaltz I may have seen a stupider, and worse movie, but I don't remember it. Crowe had a nice hat! 1 stars
9/06/07 Luce Rains Marshal Weathers in 3:10 to Yuma 5 stars
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  07-Sep-2007 (R)
  DVD: 08-Jan-2008



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