Tuesday, September 18, 2007
‘3:10 to Yuma’
“3:10 to Yuma” is just about everything you could hope for in a movie.
It’s a throwback Western of the best kind, without any of the “modernization” or “reinvention” or any of the other buzzwords Hollywood likes to throw around. And, most importantly, it’s apparently one of the rare dramas this fall not steeped in political statements.
It’s simply the story of two men trying to make the best of the bad cards they’ve been dealt by a hard, cruel world. Dan Evans (Christian Bale)—a Civil War veteran, rancher, husband, and father of two boys—went the way of the straight and narrow, working his small tract of Arizona farmland for all he’s worth (which, apparently, isn’t much). And then there’s Ben Wade (Russell Crowe): A gunslinging robber of stage coaches and killer of men whose wit is just as fast as his draw. In short: A legendary outlaw.
The movie pits these two archetypes against one another in a struggle for freedom—Wade fighting the quite real manacles of the law, Evans fighting for financial independence. See, it’s Evans’ job to get Wade on the 3:10 train to Yuma so the latter can rejoin his fellow cons in prison. If Evans succeeds, he’ll be paid a handsome sum that will ease his financial woes and give his beloved family a big boost toward a better life. The only thing standing between him and that train, of course, is Wade’s gang, a half dozen of the most dangerous and deadly animals in the West.
The best part about this movie is its two leading men. I can think of no better marquee actors working today than Crowe and Bale; both utterly disappear into their characters, a rare ability for stars of their stature. The great thing about “Yuma” is that the two are on screen together almost the entire time, and the way they work off each other is something to behold. I hope there are more projects involving Crowe and Bale in the future—for once the rambunctious Aussie may have met his match.
“3:10 to Yuma” hit theaters almost 50 years to the day of the original 1957 film, which was based on a story by legendary crime novelist Elmore Leonard. This masterful update is directed by James Mangold, who is on some kinda roll after 2005’s spectacular Johnny Cash biopic “Walk the Line.” Like he showed in that film, Mangold knows how to get out of the way and let his actors work. His direction in “Yuma” is simple yet elegant, with sweeping scenescapes that establish the film’s dusty, wide-open feel without trying too hard. He and screenwriter Michael Brandt strike just the right balance between gunfights and character development. There’s plenty of action to keep you on the edge of your seat, but the movie unfolds at a perfect pace allowing multiple revelations about its characters. Evans and Wade certainly don’t end this movie in the same place they started—and I’m not talking about all the Southwestern terrain they cover on horseback.
I don’t really have any objections to speak of with this film, other than maybe the lead characters dodge a few too many bullets to be believed (but, hey, this is a Western, after all). My only other “problem” with it isn’t really a problem at all as much as an unfulfilled expectation, as “Yuma” never quite hit that extra gear the way I hoped it would—it didn’t bewitch me body and soul, to quote one of my favorite films of the past couple years.
Still, I can’t recommend “3:10 to Yuma” highly enough, especially for anyone longing for a good ol’ fashioned Western. This is one of the best movies I’ve seen all year.