Should I Watch..? '3:10 to Yuma' (2007)
What's the big deal?
3:10 To Yuma is a modern Western film released in 2007 and is the second adaptation of Elmore Leonard's short story of the same name. Directed by James Mangold, the film stars Christian Bale and Russell Crowe and concerns an impoverished rancher who agrees to escort a dangerous criminal to trial while staying one step ahead of his cohorts trying to free him. The movie also stars Ben Foster, Logan Lerman, Alan Tudyk, Peter Fonda and Gretchen Mol. Released to a positive critical reception, the film struggled at the box office with global earnings around $70 million - just over the film's reported $55 million budget. The film did, however, manage to secure two Academy Award nominations at the 2008 ceremony.
What's it about?
Dan Evans is a Civil War veteran who has now turned to farming after settling down with his wife and two sons. However, life is hard and after failing to pay his debt to his landowner, Evans finds his farm attacked and his cattle scattered. Setting off with his sons to locate his herd, he discovers that they have been used by notorious outlaw Ben Wade and his gang to hold up a stagecoach. Wade leaves everyone dead except Pinkerton agent Bryon McElroy and heads off to the nearby town of Bisbee, Arizona to celebrate.
After confronting Wade in the saloon, Evans witnesses Wade's arrest and volunteers to join a posse to accompany Wade to the town of Contention where Wade will board to 3:10 train to Yuma Detention facility - and a certain death sentence. Knowing that the money would help save his farm, Evans is joined by McElroy, Doc Potter and his eldest son William who idolizes Wade. But Wade will not go quietly as the rest of his gang, led by his ruthless second-in-command Charlie Prince, begin chasing them down in the hope of saving their beloved leader.
Halsted Welles, Michael Brandt & Derek Haas*
Release Date (UK)
14th September, 2007
Action, Thriller, Western
Academy Award Nominations
Best Original Score, Best Sound Mixing
What's to like?
These days, Westerns aren't nearly as prolific as they seemed to be in the Fifties and Sixties but the quality is much, much better. Watching 3:10 To Yuma feels like you've been transported to a period of time that lives and breathes the same air you do. Of course, the setting is familiar but these characters inhabit the world in a way that the likes of John Wayne - superstar that he was - never quite could. This is because Bale and Crowe are two of the finest actors currently working and between them, they are utterly captivating and hold your attention from the first shot to the last. I'd go so far to say that this is Crowe's best performance since Gladiator.
Aside from impressive production values and magnetic leading men, the narrative offers plenty of twists and turns throughout (assuming you are unfamiliar with the original) and the action, when it does come, is brutal and unforgiving. The days of cowering behind a handy boulder while the same sound effect rings out are long gone - instead, shootouts are chaotic and bloody affairs as they should be. Even if you aren't the usual audience type of this sort of film, 3:10 To Yuma makes a damn fine case for paying it attention. Trust me, you'll enjoy this film even if you've never seen a Western before.
- After being warned about the pain involved in surgery, McElroy states that it's not the first time he's been shot. He's right, you know - Fonda accidentally shot himself in the stomach in real life at the age of ten.
- From the moment that the clock strikes three o'clock to the moment of the train leaving, exactly ten minutes of film-time passes. Obviously, trains were more punctual in the Old West than they are today!
- The film was originally going to feature Tom Cruise and Eric Bana in the lead roles but when Cruise dropped out, the project was shelved. It was only revived once Crowe had signed on.
What's not to like?
While the film's quality is never in doubt, it still struggles to make a significant impact in the way that Dances With Wolves or Unforgiven did. It isn't especially memorable apart from the performances of Crowe and Bale and it never strays too far from well-established Western clichés like the bad guys shooting people in the back or wearing all black. And while the two leads dominate the film, they don't give the supporting cast much of a look-in which is a pity - I enjoyed Fonda's throwback performance as McElroy but he wasn't given much in the way of screen-time.
But really, this is a film that deserves to be recognised as part of a Western revival alongside the likes of Kevin Costner's Open Range. One suspects that high production costs prohibits a plethora of Westerns flooding the market but if they are as well made and performed as this film is, I have no issue with that. I just wish more studios were prepared to take the risk of producing a film for a niche market that costs more than, say, your average slasher or teen rom-com movie. 3:10 To Yuma made most of its money in the US, unsurprisingly, and most films these days are made to appeal to as wide an audience demographic as possible. Whatever happened to artistic appeal, the lost skill of making a movie to tell a story or fulfil a director's vision?
Should I watch it?
Aside from being unfashionable and a hastily-written finale that confuses somewhat, 3:10 To Yuma is a marked improvement on the 1957 original thanks to inspired performances from Bale, Crowe and Fonda. It maintains an authenticity that some modern Westerns miss out on and its impressive production makes this an escapist trip through time, an old-school thriller that never shows its hand and keeps you guessing throughout. Great stuff!
Great For: fans of Westerns, action lovers, cowboys, Republicans
Not So Great For: non-US audiences, the 1957 version of 3:10 To Yuma
What else should I watch?
Westerns, it seems, are enjoying something of a comeback in recent years with several films like Appaloosa and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada leading the charge. What is interesting is that Westerns aren't just about moseying on into your nearest saloon and gunning down the sheriff - several modern stories have a distinctly Western feel to them. This is true of films like the Oscar-hungry Brokeback Mountain and Robert Rodriguez's ultra-violent finale to his Mariachi trilogy, Once Upon A Time In Mexico.
Having said that, Westerns came in two flavours back in the heyday with classic films like High Noon and Shane and the more lurid spaghetti-westerns like A Fistful Of Dollars. I guess that anyone looking to start enjoying Westerns should only really start in one place - The Good, The Bad And The Ugly may be a spaghetti-western but it is now regarded as one of the most influential and important examples of the genre and it turned its star Clint Eastwood into an icon.
© 2018 Benjamin Cox