Directed by James Mangold (“Walk the Line”), this remake is a very good film. Intense, believable, well-acted and exciting, it even makes a completely implausible ending work.
The film works for a lot of reasons. Let’s start at the top.
Russell Crowe and Christian Bale top line the film and both turn in yet another very good performance. It is interesting that each actor just seems to get better and better with each film. Very different actors, they do seem to have a similar taste for challenging roles.
Crowe is arguably the bigger star, but he likes to challenge himself and take on roles like heartless criminal Ben Wade. As the story progresses and we learn more and more about Wade, we learn to appreciate his character more and see more of the layers Crowe is bringing to this role. Initially, he seems like just another sociopath killer, who feels no pain as he kills yet another person standing between him and some money. But is he really that heartless? Or does he feel slightly pressured, even intimidated by the heartless people in his crew? That is for you to decide, but the mere fact Crowe is able to give this character that kind of depth speaks volumes to his skill as an actor.
Wade is also not above playing little mind games with people. After he is captured, the posse takes him to Dan’s ranch, where he meets Dan’s wife, Alice (Gretchen Mol). While they wait for some business to unfold, they have dinner and Wade quickly ascertains Dan’s weak points and starts to use those to poke some pins and needles into the rancher’s hide. These moments are amusing and help to lighten the tone. As William, Dan’s older son listens to the criminal’s stories; he even seems to start to develop a little hero worship, which doesn’t escape Dan’s notice.
Then, they are off, to make the journey to Contention, to make the train.
Christian Bale is never anything less than interesting in his films. Quite often, he is simply mesmerizing. Even as Bruce Wayne, he manages to make the character seem real, and to give the former graphic novel creation a lot of depth and unusual traits. He often physically punishes himself for the sake of the role; for “The Machinist”, he lost a lot of weight to play the role of an insomniac who worried about the world closing in on him, in the recently released “September Dawn”, he lost a lot of weight, during filming, to portray an American fighter pilot held prisoner in Laos during the Vietnam War. But does this make him a good actor? Well, it certainly helps to create the illusion of the character he is playing in any given film. But Bale brings a lot more to his roles and usually creates mesmerizing performances.
Dan Evans is a man who has had many struggles in his life. A Civil War veteran, he seems slightly put off he doesn’t get and can’t command any respect for his civil service. He lost part of a leg yet a wealthy land owner doesn’t even seem to give it a moment’s thought when he orders his men to torch Dan’s barn. Because Dan feels powerless, he comes off as a bit of a wimp in the eyes of his older son, one of the many factors prompting him to take on the task of transporting Wade. He wants to redeem himself and earn his son’s respect.
It is a performance the equal of Crowe’s. Each reveals little aspects of their characters as the story progresses. As each learns about the other, they seem to come to a better understanding of their nemesis. I won’t call them friends, but they seem to appreciate the choices each has made, and in some cases, will make, throughout the course of the film.
Peter Fonda turns in a stand-out performance as the Pinkerton agent who decides to take out his vengeance on Wade by trying to ensure he makes that train. Alan Tudyk (just seen in “Death at a Funeral”) has another memorable supporting role as Doc Potter, drafted into the journey. Luke Wilson has a brief, but intense cameo as a railroad worker bent on revenge.
But the real standout of the supporting cast is Ben Foster. As Charlie Prince, we see a mirror image of what Ben Wade once was; all bad, driven to do nothing but rob money, kill anyone who gets in their way, keep his gang in order and help keep his boss out of jail. He quickly rounds up the gang to save Ben. When they realize what is required to save Wade, he quickly silences their objections to what lies ahead. We never feel as though there is any question he will succeed in his plan; he is that driven, that committed to Wade.
The film is filled with great dialogue, the type of dialogue that helps to build the characters and allow us to learn about their past, giving us a more rounded view of their persona. Throughout, Wade and Dan have conversations which initially start as a minor form of mind game initiated by Wade. But as he gets to know the rancher, he starts to subtly reveal things about himself. Both characters are the better for this subtle form of exposition.
These same conversations also help to lay the groundwork for the finale. Now, I still don’t buy into the film’s conclusion, I don’t believe some of the actions of some of the characters, but the film sets up this ending very well, dropping little clues and hints throughout.
The dialogue also appears to be authentic. As the characters speak, they don’t use any modern day phrases, ruining the image of watching two men in the Old West. Period characters speaking in modern dialect is a more common thing than you might realize; because we are familiar with modern day words and phrases, it is more difficult for us to realize these are being used inappropriately in a period piece. It is interesting that we are now seeing a variety of projects attempting to give us a hyper-realistic view of what life was like in the Old West. First, HBO’s “Deadwood” created by David Milch, and in which every other word out of every character’s mouth is the “F” word. But it works, and is surprisingly engrossing. Now with “3:10 To Yuma”, we see another thorough, seemingly accurate depiction of a different part of the Old West.
There are also a number of terrific action sequences, keeping things lively and interesting. Because this is a western, these involve robbing stagecoaches, shootouts and chases on horseback. I realize some people may not appreciate this type of action, too old-fashioned, but it gives a stronger sense of immediacy, of danger to the film. Because the things are happening on a smaller scale to ‘real’ people, they seem more dangerous.
“3:10 To Yuma” is a very good film. A remake of the Glenn Ford – Van Heflin original, I have never seen the first film, so I can’t compare the two. But the new version featuring great performances from Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, a number of fine supporting performances, and great dialogue is a very good film.