Christine and I got to see 3:10 to Yuma this weekend with our friends Jeff and Ashley. As a life-long western fan, I always get excited when a new one comes along that actually looks good. Even the most casual of filmgoers knows how rare such an occurrence is. How many good (or otherwise) westerns have there been in the past 20 years? You can count them on both hands.
Based on a short story by Elmore Leonard (previously filmed in 1957) and set about 3 years after the end of the Civil War, Yuma tells the story of a posse attempting to escort captured outlaw gang leader Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) from Bisbee, AZ to Contention, AZ (an ominous name if ever there was one) where they intend to place Wade on the titular train to his trial and sentence. Wade is the type of charming rogue that Crowe plays with such ease: he is a natural leader, well-read, charismatic, funny, and has a way with women.
Dan Evans (Christian Bale) a rancher who joins the posse for $200, is Wade’s polar opposite. Solemn, honest, and hardworking, Evans’ luck seems to have abandoned him. He has a wooden leg (a result of injuries from the war), his ranch is in foreclosure as a result of a drought, his oldest son doesn’t respect him, his youngest son has tuberculosis, and he is afraid of losing his wife. Believing that nobody respects him, Evans is counting on the $200 to turn his luck around.
Like any good western, there is plenty of action: from the outlaw gang’s robbery of a stagecoach, to Wade’s capture, to his gang’s attempts to rescue him, to the posse’s encounters with marauding Apaches and bounty hunters, to Wade’s attempts at escape, to the mindblowing final shootout. However, the heart of the story is the relationship of Wade and Evans. Evans looks down on Wade for being a thief and a killer; Wade doesn’t understand why Evans stays honest despite having so little to show for it. Yet, by the end of the film, both men begin to like the other despite themselves; this causes some interesting plot twists in the final act.
This is good stuff; director James Mangold gets that a good western is more than gunfights and great scenery. At its best, the western allows all sorts of stories to be told with plenty of subtext and character development. Add in some top-of-their game acting from Bale, Crowe, and the young actor Ben Foster as Wade’s fiercely loyal (and psychotic) right hand man and you get an altogether satisfying experience. Hands down, one of the best movies of the year. Best of all, this one is actually making money and getting good reviews, which may lead to a long-awaited western revival.
On a completely un-related note, this is one of the funniest things I have ever seen, and it’s safe for work. Check it out.
Filed under: Movies