Posted by: dougery | February 20, 2012

My Year of Westerns, Part Three: 3:10 to Yuma (2007)

After watching two films made over 50 years ago I decided to take in a western produced relatively recently, even if that film is a remake of a classic made in 1957. 3:10 to Yuma (2007) is a very straightforward morality tale about two men of distinctly different dispositions. Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is a law abiding rancher who served his country, defending the capital during the Civil War. All he has to show for it is a mounting debt and a missing leg, shot off by his own men in the war. He is a man who plays by the rules and suffers because of it as the society he lives in favors the crooked and the cheats. Meanwhile Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) is an outlaw who takes what he wants, killing and thieving and living high and well because of it. Naturally these two men are going to be pressed into close quarters and a bulk of the film’s drama is developed from their opposing philosophies and differing way of life.

What each man shares is his own family, Evans with his two sons and wife, Wade with his gang. Throughout the film we see both men inspire fanatical loyalty as Evans oldest son William simply won’t allow his father to fail and Wade’s second in command Charlie Prince will do anything he has to in order to save his boss from the law. The plot of film is simple. Through desperation and circumstance Evans finds himself part of a detail tasked with bringing Wade to the town of Contention where he’ll board the titular 3:10 to the Yuma territorial prison. Yet when so many of the most talented men operate on the wrong side of the law, this task is far from easy.

As you might expect with a film featuring both Bale and Crowe, there are a lot of big acting personalities at work here. To his credit, Bale plays against type, and his largely broken, meek, crippled Evans is pretty damn great. Especially early on where we see Evans struggling on his ranch where his son William all but mocks his father for not having the balls to save his own family. There is a lot at work in this character, and Evans’ motivations may be simple but they are also heartbreaking. Its clear very early on this man is a martyr and won’t find a happy ending.

Crowe, who I have rarely liked (the main exception being L.A. Confidential) gets to play to his strengths, that of a manly desperado, a criminal with no perceived weakness. Wade is almost supernaturally gifted in all arenas, he reminded me of Hannibal Lector in that he seemed to know everything about everyone at all times. He is the fastest shot and yet somehow also the wisest man out there, can quote the bible by verse even though he read it just the once as a boy. Wade is a villain the audience is meant to loathe at first but then come to recognize as ‘not all bad.’ Which means of course he’ll get what’s coming to him for years of pillaging, womanizing and murder. His lot is much less interesting to me as if we follow the rules the film has set up, forgiving Wade is tantamount to forgiving society of its uneven playing field.

The cast is rounded out with excellent character actors (many from television), from Peter Fonda and Alan Tudyk (of Firefly fame), to Kevin Durand and Ben Foster. Each steals scenes from the more accomplished actors, in particular Foster whose Charlie Prince is a kind of evil Doc Holiday with a frighteningly quiet voice. Unlike Wade who again, we’re meant to condone for some reason, perhaps because of his bible quoting or maybe just because he’s Russell Crowe, Charlie is absolutely feral and unpredictable. He is also the film’s instrument of fate, in that since we’re meant to see Wade in a new light by the end of our narrative, and Evans can’t make it out of this thing alive, well, I’ll let you put the rest together for yourself.

I just can’t buy into Wade’s resignation at film’s end. Bottled up in a room with Evans, he’s supposed to suddenly feel different about the way he conducts his life? Or at least feel such admiration for the noble Evans that he’ll readily submit to being brought to justice? The chaotic ending with both actors running through the streets of Contention while being shot at by dozens of men is messy and too tidy all at once. Although far from a bad film, 3:10 to Yuma has some sizable flaws, or perhaps it is just too simple. Either way it fails to stand up for itself following the more complex stories of The Wild Bunch and The Professionals.

Grade: Trips

Next up: The first appearance of John Wayne in My Year of Westerns and the first appearance of Montgomery Clift in film, period. Red River (1948)


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