3:10 to Yuma (2007)
Directed by James Mangold
Christian Bale and Russell Crowe embroiled in a battle of wits. Oh yeah. That's worth the price of admission.
3:10 to Yuma marks not only another return of the Western, but also of good, old-fashioned storytelling.
In this case, the story revolves around two men. One's a no-good, not-to-be-trusted smooth-talker by the name of Ben Wade (Crowe, Gladiator). The other's a good, trustworthy, soft-spoken man named Dan Evans (Bale, Batman Begins).
Dan is a veteran of the Civil War, during which an incident left him peg-legged and brushed aside by the U.S. government he so valiantly tried to serve. Living out in the wild west with his wife, Alice (Gretchen Mol, The Notorious Bettie Page), and his two sons, Dan's desperate to keep the cattle ranch that provides his livelihood.
But the old west version of a money-grubbing landlord wants Dan off the land to make way for a new railroad line. With his barn already torched, Dan's been given one week to vacate the house as well.
As fate would have it, Dan stumbles onto Ben's trail in the aftermath of a stagecoach robbery. Such robberies are Ben's forte and his exploits have amassed more than $400,000. There's no doubt about it, he's one ruthless son of a gun.
With Ben unwittingly at the wrong end of Dan's rifle, Ben is arrested and a posse is assembled to lead Ben to the train station so he can catch the 3:10 train to Yuma's prison. If Dan succeeds in accompanying Ben to the station, he'll be rewarded with $200, which will go a long way to restoring his financial situation and his self-image.
3:10 to Yuma is based on an Elmore Leonard short story which was originally turned into a movie starring Glenn Ford as Ben Wade back in 1957. It's a testimonial to the strength of the material that it still resonates today. This time around, the story's been spruced up a bit by Michael Brandt and Derek Haas, who co-wrote the less than classic 2 Fast 2 Furious, while James Mangold (Walk the Line) steadily guides his cast on the trail to Yuma.
Of course, having Bale and Crowe in the lead roles certainly made things easier for Mangold. It's a pleasure to watch these guys play off each other. They're so good, it's easy to imagine the gears moving behind their eyes as they consider their options and determine a course of action as dictated by their moral compasses. And those compasses, most of the time, are pointing in opposite directions.
Dan is hungry in more ways than one. The Civil War left him dealing with feelings of emasculation as he tries to keep his family together. He can't stand how his boys look at him in disgust — and how his wife doesn't look at him at all. Alice says no one will think less of him if he stays home instead of escorting Ben to Yuma.
Dan replies, "No one can think less of me."
On the other hand, Ben is a womanizer who considers the entire world his personal oyster for the taking. While he likes to quote Proverbs, he's also lethal. Even in handcuffs.
Can Dan be bought? Is it possible for Ben to make him a deal he can't refuse and buy his own freedom? Those are the questions that make a serious drama such as this truly fun to watch.
There's almost enough character here to not only cover this movie but also compensate for Shoot ‘em Up, which is nearly devoid of human characters.
The violence here is also handled under a far different light than Shoot ‘em Up. In 3:10 to Yuma, actions have their consequences and they need to be understood. Even as Dan struggles to teach his older son values, he can see William (Logan Lerman, The Number 23) is fascinated by blood and violence.
William lacks faith in his father, talks back to him, and seems attracted to Ben's rogue lifestyle.
Even so, Dan tries to maintain an even keel and stay focused on the mission at hand. Sure, he could take Ben's money and walk away a rich man. But what would he tell people while he's spending the money? How would he explain how he got that money?
While the battle of wits keeps the movie humming along, the strong characters build a rooting interest in the good man's success and the bad guy's downfall. Then, when all is said and done, it's the themes of loyalty, integrity, and values that keep the movie replaying in the mind's eye after the end credits roll.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.