3:10 to Yuma

Westerns were the dominant genre in American film from almost the beginning. The first film to tell a story was The Great Train Robbery (1903)  From then until the seventies, dozens of oaters were made every year at every level of quality, from main screen features to B-movies and serials. Then for reasons that are much debated, America’s obsession with the frontier experience faded.

Nowadays, if you want to make a western you better have a great pitch, name actors and a script with buzz attached to it. Witness some of the big westerns that have been made since their fall from ubiquity: Silverado, Unforgiven, Dancing with Wolves, and Open Range. Those are all good films. There are a couple of Best Pictures in that list as a matter of fact. So maybe this higher threshold works to get better westerns made if not more. If true, I can live with that.

3:10 to Yuma, James Mangold’s remake of the classic B-movie from 1957 can proudly take it’s place among the ranks of post seventies westerns. Not at the top of the list, mind you; it has a few fatal flaws, but it does belong.

A drought has forced rancher Dan Evans (Christian Bale) to the brink of bankruptcy. Dan lost a foot in the Civil War in a not very heroic way. He is unable to stand up to the bullying tactics of the land baron who wants to repossess the ranch and sell it to the railroad. Dan’s wife, Alice (Gretchen Mol) and oldest son, William (Logan Lorman) have lost respect for him.

When Dan gets the opportunity to escort notorious outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) to the nearest train station in exchange for a $200 bounty, he takes it, even though Wade never did anything against Dan or his family. The problem is not Dan’s conscience, however, it’s Wade’s deadly gang who are intent on freeing him.

It also turns out that Wade is an articulate and intelligent guy with his own warped code of honor. Both of these men get glimpses into each other’s lives and philosophies and the various attractions of good and evil are examined.

All the elements come together in 3:10 to Yuma. It’s a beautifully photographed film. The two leads give powerhouse performances as does Peter Fonda in a supporting role. The script is pretty good although the improbable ending, which I won’t spoil, brings down the grade.

I don’t think that 3:10 to Yuma will spark an onslaught of westerns anymore than Unforgiven or Dances with Wolves did. Hollywood will go on make one great western every five years or so probably from here on out.
Isn’t that a great state of affairs.


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September 2007
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