Bristling with heroes and anti-heroes, lawmen and outlaws, family men and ferocious killers, "Western" is one genre that can never be blown off, especially when it's so full of characters and morality issues. Some 40 years back, before Sci-fi movies, western movies were used for allegorical approach to explore themes and ideas that might not fit well within the scope of a traditional motion picture. It's not a popular genre nowadays, but, when one is well-made, it can still arrest the attention and transport the viewer to another place and time. 3:10 to Yuma is one of those complex 'western' film that twists morality and plays with the notion of the outlaw as a folk hero.
Based on the 1953 short story by Elmore Leonard, (which was previously filmed in 1957) 3:10 to Yuma is a potent psychological showdown between a charismatic outlaw, and a humorless family man. There are gunfights, stagecoach crashes and dynamite blasts in this movie, yet the real conflict of the piece is emotional. The movie constantly teases us with the question of what is good, what is evil, and, most importantly, what resides in the messy middle between those two convenient poles.
PlotDan Evans (Chrisian Bale), a hard-working rancher who has been struck with a three-year string of bad luck to go with his lame leg, a reminder of his days fighting in the Civil War. Evans has been struggling to make a living and provide for his wife (Gretchen Mol) and sons, but times are hard, especially when the local businessman sends hoodlums to burn down his barn because of unpaid debts.
In a subsequent bracing scene, a wild bunch led by the outlaw Ben Wade (Crowe) attacks a payroll coach. Numerous bloody deaths ensue, but so does a big payoff for Ben, who, after his men take off, loiters too long in a nearby town and is arrested with Dan's help. To regain the respect of elder son, Will (Logan Lerman), who regard Dan with contempt and Wade with mesmerized respect, and to pay of his debt, Dan signs on to help deliver Wade to feds.
This, however, will involve transporting him to the railway town, contention, where in two days' time, Wade can be put on the train to Yuma, to feds. Thus begins a war of nerves that plays out in tasty ways across a vivid landscape. Although handcuffed and surrounded by several armed men, it's Ben who sets the tone and exerts the power.
AnalysisWorking from a script by Michael Brandt, director James Mangold does everything he can to reinvigorate the Old West for modern times. The script have given Mangold a solid thematic structure by adding depth and weight to what could have essentially been a simple thriller. Under his direction, the action is secondary to character development and the highlighting of moral dilemmas. That's not to say the action isn't well choreographed. The 30-minute finale, which includes a tense stand-off with Ben's gang, is masterfully executed. Mangold has resisted the urge to try to inflate the action, in order to put his own personal stamp on it. Keenly photographed by cinematographer Papamichael, Yuma keeps characters and conflicts in extreme close-up while thrilling in the majesty of the Western panorama.
Russell Crowe is sadistically attractive as the suave desperado. He betrays no effort in conveying the masculine confidence, psychological sharpness and manipulative power of his alluring bad guy. Crowe's 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. There's nothing showy in playing a stubborn, rigorously just man, but, Bale brings intensity to the role. Russell Crowe plays the bad guy, but it's hard not to like him. The real bad guy we dislike on screen is the creepy Ben Foster, who plays as the Wade gang's crazy second-in-command.
Other best performance in this movie,belongs to veteran actor Peter Fonda. Tough, terrific, and totally unrecognizable as a bounty hunter, Fonda invests the role with the kind of authority that few other actors could convincingly pull off.
By amplifying the father-son dynamic, 3:10 to Yuma becomes as much a story about the power of role models as it is a thriller. William, Dan's elder son, can't help but hide his admiration for Wade; when he witnesses Wade gun two men down, his words are breathless: “He's so fast.” Evans, on the other hand, is struggling to make a legitimate living, and for that he suffers in his son's eyes, something he aims to correct by bringing Wade to justice. In the end, William realizes that his father's decency is ultimately more dynamic than all of Wade's stagecoach-robbing exploits.
3:10 To Yuma delivers an absorbing mix of strong storytelling, exhilarating action sequences and powerful performances. Watching a movie like this, you can't help but wish that the Western genre would come back into favor again.
3:10 To Yuma - IMDb