Friday 7 March 2008

3:10 To Yuma (2007)

Friday 7 March 2008
Director: James Mangold
Writers: Halsted Welles, Michael Brandt & Derek Haas (based on a short story by Elmore Leonard)

Cast: Russell Crowe (Ben Wade), Christian Bale (Dan Evans), Logan Lerman (William Evans), Ben Foster (Charlie Prince), Peter Fonda (Byron McElroy), Dallas Roberts (Grayson Butterfield), Alan Tudyk (Doc Potter), Vinessa Shaw (Emmy), Kevin Durand (Tucker), Luce Raines (Marshal Weathers), Gretchen Mol (Alice Evans) & Luke Wilson (Zeke)

A struggling rancher offers to help transport a dangerous outlaw to a train bound for Yuma prison, in return for $200...

The Western is a genre I've never had much time for; finding most of them uninspired and too similar to one another. The historical period just doesn't interest me, either. If you've seen one high noon shootout, saloon brawl, stagecoach chase, and train robbery – haven't you seen them all? Well, maybe not...

James Mangold's 3:10 To Yuma is a remake of a 1957 movie, itself based on a short story by Elmore Leonard (best known these days for his slick crime fiction). It's an interesting pedigree, but it's the presence of Christian Bale and Russell Crowe that ensured my attention -- and alleviated my Western-prejudice...

Bale plays Dan Evans; a war-hero rancher struggling to make ends meet and provide for his wife Alice (Gretchen Mol) and teenage sons, William (Logan Lerman) and Mark (Ben Petry), now that his land is being seized to make room for a new railroad.

Into their lives comes infamous outlaw Ben Wade (Crowe), freshly-caught by small-town authorities after robbing a stagecoach outside Bisbee. Dan, seeing an opportunity to make some desperately-needed cash, offers to help transport Wade to the town of Contention, and put him on the 3:10 train to Yuma, Arizona – where he'll be hung for his crimes.

There follows a beautifully-judged character study of the two men (introspective, honest Dan, and charismatic, lying Wade), interspersed with some gripping and tense action beats. Despite being guarded by a small gang of Bisbee's finest -- crack-shot Dan, ageing bounty hunter McElroy (Peter Fonda), and twitchy vet Doc Potter (Alan Tudyk) amongst them -- Wade proves to be more of a handful than they expected. And, of course, Dan and Wade find themselves slowly learning something about how the other man lives.

As a subplot, Wade's notorious gang are plotting to rescue their captured leader, and Wade's "deputy" Charlie Prince (Ben Foster) ensures they're always just a few steps behind Dan's gang -- on a treacherous journey to the train station.

Christian Bale has been a favourite actor of mine since American Psycho, and gives a brilliantly mannered and rounded performance as Dan, the one-legged rancher doing his best to make an honest living under difficult circumstances and the scrutiny of a disenchanted family.

Russell Crowe channels his natural charisma into villainous realms, but Wade is more than a simple cold-blooded killer: he's a man who chooses to assert his masculinity at the expense of law and order, but has a soft side just a scratch under the surface -- shown with his sketching of wildlife, or appealing to a sexy barmaid with talk of a sea captain daughter's ocean-green eyes. Wade's every inch the warrior-poet.

Both are excellent performances, but the supporting cast are also worthy of praise. Ben Foster is wonderful as bad-boy Charlie, Gretchen Mol handles a small role very well, and screen legend Peter Fonda sticks in your memory as a grizzled bounty hunter. There isn't a misjudged character or disappointing performance in the whole 122 minutes, to be honest.

3:10 To Yuma is also refreshingly devoid of Western clichés. Or, if one rears its head, they're given a twist of expectation – such as the moment a hand-cranked gatling gun is seen attached to a stagecoach to fend of robbers. What's more, the film genuinely felt like it was happening in the historical reality of the 1800s, and didn't rely on set-pieces full of clichéd Western iconography and smoking pistols.

I really enjoyed this film; finding it well-acted by everyone, brilliantly shot by Mangold, with a compelling narrative that sweeps you along on the journey. It also contains a great ending that's evocatively handled by the actors. I've seen too many films recently that run out of steam in Act Three, and limp to a pat conclusion -- but 3:10 To Yuma has a proper storyline, told with proper characters, and it's a pleasure to be reintroduced to a genre I'd long abandoned – and find myself eager to see more of.

LionsGate Entertainment
Budget: $50 million
122 minutes

PICTURE: 2.35:1 | SOUND: DTS / Dolby Digital 5.1 / SDDS