CAPSULE: A very short Elmore Leonard story, much broadened to make a classic western with Glenn Ford, is expanded again to make a bigger and more powerful version. A needy farmer agrees to put a notorious bandit on a train to prison. But he is going to have to really earn his pay. Christian Bale plays the farmer and Russell Crowe the rather complex stage bandit. This film combines action and character, adding in realism that the previous version did not have. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
In March 1953 Elmore Leonard published in "Dime Western Magazine" a short western story, "Three-Ten to Yuma". Four years later it was the inspiration for Delmer Davies's very loose adaptation, which expanded the story and found considerably more dramatic potential. 3:10 TO YUMA has become a minor classic of the Western film, remembered better than most, but not with the reverence that a HIGH NOON receives. Now half a century later James Mangold has taken the film version and transformed it again into a much bigger, brasher, and more violent Western, but now the characters and the action compete with each other to dominate the film.
Christian Bale plays Dan Evans, a sod-busting farmer whose farm is just about ready to give out. If he cannot get together money soon he will lose his farm to the bank. He is fighting pressure to remove him. Meanwhile notorious stage robber and killer Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) meets Evans just long enough to steal some horses from Evans. When the law captures Wade, somebody is needed to take Wade across country to get to the nearest train depot and put him on the train for Yuma prison. Evans agrees to take the job in return for a very badly needed $200. The problem is that Wade's gang is deadly and is just as set on making sure that Wade is not on that train. Wade seems to take a friendly interest in Evans's family, but what does the killer really have in mind?
That is the plot, but it could be the plot of a much more trivial horse opera. What sets this story apart is the enigmatic character of Wade. He is cold-blooded on one hand, but he also seems to be in some ways amiable and idealistic. People who are determined to hate him soon find their resolve against him weakening. He seems a pleasant man. Is he sincere or is this the hypnotic guile of a snake. He seems to have flashes of real decency and flashes of ugly violence. The film centers on this ambiguity. Evans will have to decide if he can trust his prisoner or not. His life may hang on the decision.
In the 1957 version Van Heflin played Dan Evans and Glenn Ford played the enigmatic Ben Wade. Both are good actors, but by comparison to this version both seem a little too clean and smooth. Neither really seemed grizzled by being on the frontier. This film has a much greater feel of realism. It also has more action and violence, though it does not get in the way of the character questions. It is hard to take a film that is well- remembered and improve on it in a remake. But Mangold's realistic style and fleshing out of the plot arguably make this a fuller telling of a story that develops from version to version. Both versions are suspenseful, but this one is enthralling all the way through. On the other hand the script borrows a lot from other classic Westerns, notably HIGH NOON.
Christian Bale is playing a sort of lackluster character, at least at the beginning. Even his son does not respect him. Later without changing style he becomes more magnetic. Russell Crowe has to be an enigma throughout though later in the film it is easier to judge what he is thinking.
There are some minor problems with the film. The film takes place in Arizona but was shot in New Mexico. That should be a good match, but the film does not feel like we are seeing Arizona. Much of the early part of the film takes place in the town of Bisbee, Arizona. The town looks flat. The real Bisbee is located in a canyon. Dan Evans had his leg shot off in the Civil War. He walks with a limp but still seems to be a very good runner. That seems inconsistent.
It is nice to see that there are still good Westerns being made every year or so. It is a genre that it would be a pity to lose. The genre gets a (medical) shot in the arm with 3:10 TO YUMA, which I rate +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0381849/fullcredits
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2007 Mark R. Leeper