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'3:10 to Yuma' Movie Review

Everything You Want From a Western - And More

About.com Rating 5 Star Rating


Christian Bale stars in 3:10 to Yuma

Christian Bale in 3:10 to Yuma.

© Lionsgate Films
One of the best movies of the year and a Western on par with Clint Eastwood’s 1992 Oscar-winning Unforgiven, 3:10 to Yuma demonstrates the once popular genre still has a lot of life left in it. Featuring incredible ensemble acting and a story that blends gritty Wild West action with an emotionally engaging tale, this take on Elmore Leonard’s 1953 short story is a riveting drama that’s difficult to shake off for days after viewing.

Don't go into 3:10 to Yuma like I did, ready to see a film about a gunslinger versus the law with a clearly defined hero and villain. The story that unfolds is much more layered and complex, with the central characters flawed and their motivations tinged in striking shades of grey. Director James Mangold (Walk the Line) pointed out that while most people recall the older Westerns as the “black hat/white hat” stories, the majority of the classic films of the genre did not have clear-cut good guys and bad guys. Mangold and screenwriters Michael Brandt & Derek Haas wove a myriad of layers into the central characters Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) and Dan Evans (Christian Bale) and thus effectively evoke the best of what the genre has ever offered.

The Story

Dan Evans is an ex-Union Army sharpshooter who lost part of his leg during the Civil War. His injury has not only left him damaged physically, but also has damaged his self-esteem and cost him the respect of his eldest son. Yet he’s still got enough determination in him to doggedly hang onto the idea of making his small ranch in Bisbee successful enough to support his wife, Alice (Gretchen Mol), and their two sons: Will (Logan Lerman) and Mark (Benjamin Petry).

Russell Crowe stars in 3:10 to Yuma

Russell Crowe as Ben Wade in 3:10 to Yuma.

© Lionsgate Films
Unfortunately for the Evans family, the railroad bigwigs have determined their ranch lies exactly where they’d like to lay new tracks. Dan is in debt over his head to the man who holds the deed, Glen Hollander (Lennie Loftin). Hollander's a hard-as-nails businessman who cuts off the ranch’s water supply and has no qualms about sending his thugs out to burn down Dan’s barn as a means of reinforcing his demand that the Evans family make good on their loan or else. Hollander knows full well Dan has no means to repay the amount owed and is just biding his time before swooping in and forcing the Evans off the land.

However fate has plans for Dan and they involve outlaw Ben Wade. Ben Wade and his infamous gang of thieves and murderers are the stuff legends are made of. Wade’s exploits have been written up in countless small town newspapers and his reputation as the baddest of the bad is well-deserved. If there’s anyone who rivals Ben in terms of ruthlessness it’s his right-hand man, Charlie Prince (Ben Foster). Charlie’s loyalty knows no boundaries, and once Wade becomes the prisoner of Southern Pacific Railroad representative Grayson Butterfield (Dallas Roberts), Charlie’s ferocity in trying to free his boss is matched only by the level of depravity he’ll sink to in order to get the job done.

With the prospect of losing his ranch looming over his head, fortune smiles a twisted smile at Dan when he’s presented with the opportunity to earn $200 for assisting Butterfield and a hastily assembled group of hired guns. Their job: escort Ben Wade on a three day trek from Bisbee to the town of Contention in order to place him on the 3:10 train to Yuma to stand trial for his crimes.

The posse is made up of men with varying degrees of skill at handling guns. Bounty hunter Byron McElroy (Peter Fonda) took a bullet to the stomach when Wade robbed the stage he was protecting on its way to Bisbee (a hold-up witnessed by Dan and his boys). Byron survived and his hatred for Wade has grown into a crusade to bring the renegade to justice. In addition to Byron, Butterfield and Dan Evans, the town’s veterinarian Doc Potter (Alan Tudyk) is recruited to come along - despite the fact he’s not much of a shot. Tucker (Kevin Durand), a sadistic thug who works for Hollander and was responsible for actually lighting Dan’s barn on fire, also joins the posse.

But the ragtag group quickly discover arresting Wade was the easiest part of the job. Placing him securely onboard a train is quite another. Wade’s gang isn’t about to let their leader go off to jail without putting up a ferocious battle. Complicating matters is Wade himself. Wade’s not only highly skilled at killing, he’s also highly skilled at the art of manipulation and does his best to play on Dan’s decent nature.

Ben Foster stars in 3:10 to Yuma

Ben Foster takes cover in 3:10 to Yuma.

© Lionsgate Films
It’s also apparent Wade the killer has a strong sense of honor that some members of the posse who are supposedly on the side of the law don’t possess. The notorious outlaw seems to have a lot of respect for Dan and maybe even a little empathy for his family’s predicament. Questions hang in the air as the posse approaches the town of Contention. In a battle of wills, who will be the ultimate winner?

The Cast

Ben Wade’s murdered dozens of innocent people yet when he turns on the swaggering bad boy charm or uses his wit and intelligence to outsmart most of his captors, strangely enough passing a few days in his presence becomes an appealing prospect. That’s entirely thanks to the way Oscar-winner Crowe inhabits the role. Crowe masterfully pulls off the part of a killer who the audience doesn’t want to believe is rotten to the core. Did Ben Wade allow himself to be captured in the first place and if so, why? There’s so much to figure out and Crowe’s gripping portrayal of the enigmatic and dangerous Wade is absolutely perfect.

Bale is one of our finest actors and in 3:10 to Yuma he delivers one of his best performances. Bale’s simply amazing as a rancher willing to go to desperate lengths to gain his son’s respect and approval. Whether he’s attired in Batman’s mask and cape or the ragged remains of a U.S. fighter pilot’s uniform, there’s a rawness and realism to every project Bale’s involved with, and 3:10 to Yuma’s one of the best examples of Bale’s ability to completely grasp a character’s motivations and sell it to an audience.

Page 2: The Bottom Line

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