3:10 to Yuma
3:10 to Yuma is a very modern western, but it's also a throwback to the '50s classics of the genre's heyday. It's a remake of the 1957 film of the same name, and is exactly what a remake should be: not merely updated, but better. This is a film that revels in all the most entertaining conventions of its genre, but also strives for—and achieves—a deeper inquiry into moral psychology. On one level it's about gunfights, spurs, and saloon showdowns, but on another it's a film about the fuzzy lines between right, wrong, and the law in an altogether lawless frontier land.
With 3:10 to Yuma, director James Mangold follows his Oscar-nominated Walk the Line with another film that deals with western Americana and the personal quest for honor and redemption. The story setup is pretty simple: An Arizona rancher (and wounded Civil War vet) named Dan Evans (the remarkable Christian Bale) is down on his luck, about to lose his ranch to the Southern Pacific suits who are bringing the railroad to the tiny town of Bisbee. Seeking to redeem himself financially and in the eyes of his adolescent son Will (Logan Lerman)—who wishes his dad were more like the legendary heroes of his Old West dime novels—Evans stumbles upon a major chance to prove himself.
The notorious outlaw, Ben Wade (Russell Crowe), has just been captured in Bisbee. Hoping to rid the region once and for all of this infamous scourge to the railroad's safety, a Southern Pacific businessman (Dallas Roberts) offers to handsomely reward any man who will join the posse to safely transport Wade to prison. Evans jumps at the opportunity, but the task is easier said than done. It's a three-day journey to the town of Contention, where Wade is to be put on the 3:10 train to the Federal Court in Yuma. And it promises to be a perilous journey fraught with hostile Indians, railroad ruffians, as well as the violent gang of outlaws determined to free their leader—Wade—before he is put on the train to Yuma.
As the fateful journey plays out, bullets fly and blood is spilt. The posse finds Wade to be deadly even when bound and gun-less. As the body count grows (and it is fairly predictable who dies and in what order), Evans becomes determined to be the last man standing with Wade—the man who successfully delivers the criminal to the law in Yuma.
From the outset of the film, however, it is clear that the Evans/Wade dynamic is not going to be your typical battle of archenemies. Wade seems to respect Evans—as a morally upright family man driven only by a desire to protect his land and dignity. Likewise, Evans seems uninterested in destroying Wade. If not for the circumstances of their meeting, they might have been friends. A scene of a captured Wade sitting at the dinner table with Evans, his wife (Gretchen Mol), and two sons, is especially touching. Evans cuts the meat for the handcuffed Wade, who might as well be some distant uncle in town to wow his nephews with stories of gunfights, hold-ups, and Apache attacks. Alas, Wade's familial charm cannot hide the fact that he is a bad, bad man.