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.

Christian Bale as Dan Evans

Christian Bale as Dan Evans

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.

Russell Crowe as the villain, Ben Wade

Russell Crowe as the villain, Ben Wade

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.

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Crowe's wickedly complicated Ben Wade is a self-described rotten-to-the-core villain who is as enchanted with his own mythology as everyone else is fearful of it. He is a holster-bearing Hannibal Lecter—minus the cannibalism. Like Lecter, Wade works on his victims primarily psychologically. He's deadly with his gun ("the hand of God"), but his words are even deadlier.

Ben Foster as Charlie Prince, the worst scoundrel of the bunch

Ben Foster as Charlie Prince, the worst scoundrel of the bunch

Like many of cinema's most psychologically toxic antagonists, Wade is well read and adroit at quoting Bible verses to tease his foes. Apparently he read the Bible cover to cover only once (in only three days, at age 8, or so he claims), but he quotes it like a preacher. His motto seems to be Proverbs 21:2: "All a man's ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs the heart." Wade takes from this verse a twisted justification for his own wayward actions—apparently believing that since God is ultimately the only judge of right and wrong, man has no mandate but to do what is right in his own eyes.

Wade's odd brand of moral relativism makes him an interesting character—especially in the film's final moments, when his mythologized shell begins to crack. But it is Bale's Evans whom I found most interesting—and frustrating—to watch. On one hand it is easy to root for him and sympathize. He's just a family man, protecting what's his and serving a greater justice. But Evans' motivations become more ambiguous as the film goes on (and this is chiefly a testament to Bale's nuanced, restrained acting). Is it really about the reward money or serving justice? Or is it a pride issue? Some deeper psychological drive that makes him—in the end—not all that different from Wade? As he is forced to kill dozens of people and put his own family in grave danger, these questions become ever more pertinent. At what point does proving your honor become secondary to protecting yourself and the lives of your loved ones?

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Dan takes it upon himself to get Wade to the train in time

Dan takes it upon himself to get Wade to the train in time

Despite its deeper psychological layers, Yuma is first and foremost a pulp western. As such, it features top-notch action sequences, pretty much from start to finish. There are horse-and-carriage chases (with an amazing wagon-mounted machine gun turret), massive shootouts, cattle stampedes, a blown-up horse, and a psychotic Luke Wilson (in an uncredited cameo) using some electro-torture device on the captured Wade. As westerns go, Yuma is more Robert Rodriguez than John Ford. Even so, the violence is not excessive; it feels pretty accurate for its unlawful setting in the wild West.

Much of the tension of the film comes from what we know is coming at 3:10 (we are made aware of the countdown by constant shots of pocket watches, etc.—a nod to High Noon). As the train's arrival becomes imminent, so too does the dread of an unavoidably nasty fight. Wade's gang catches up to Evans's posse in Contention (the aptly-named town which will serve as the setting for the violent showdown), and their second-in-command leader, Charlie Prince (Ben Foster), unleashes a ruthless wrath. Foster's Prince, who is really the worst scoundrel in the bunch (at least when it comes to brute, trigger-happy violence), is a deliciously wicked character who steals most of the scenes he's in. Bale and Crowe are both marvelous, but Foster (a phenomenal young actor who wowed critics with his turn earlier this year in Alpha Dog) really captures the soulless, unruly spirit of the western outlaw.

In the end, Yuma portrays a West that is stark, barren, and morally ambiguous. Like all the great "revisionist westerns" of recent years (Unforgiven, The Proposition), very few characters are all good or all bad. Everyone is a mixture (just as Evans and Wade are, in a way, two sides of the same coin) and everyone has an opportunity to change—to redeem whatever rotten past they came from. Predictably, then, the ending (which sees the train heading off to Yuma) is rather unresolved. Like the broad horizon that dominates the western frame, the sky's the limit on possibility.

Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. Wade asks a Christian character if he's ever read another book in his life besides the Bible. "No need" is the response given. What sorts of stereotypes of Christianity are on display in this film?
  2. How do you interpret the "sacrificial" scene at the end of the film? Is justice achieved? And for whom?
  3. What is the film proposing as the definition of bravery or honor? Do you agree or disagree with this proposition?
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The Family Corner

For parents to consider

3:10 to Yuma is rated R for violence and some language. If not for a few strong expletives (some of which are uttered by a 14-year-old), the movie could probably have been a PG-13. There is a lot of violence, but nothing overly graphic—just a lot of shooting and gunfights. There is one scene of Crowe drawing a portrait of a naked woman, but the only nudity you see is in his drawing. Aside from an overall gritty nature, the film has a solid moral compass and includes interesting discussions about right and wrong, the Bible, and honor. For older, mature teens accompanied by parents, this is an entertaining film that families might enjoy together.

What other Christian critics are saying:

3:10 to Yuma
Our Rating
3 Stars - Good
Average Rating
(3 user ratings)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
R (for violence and some language)
Directed By
James Mangold
Run Time
2 hours 2 minutes
Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Ben Foster
Theatre Release
September 07, 2007 by Lionsgate
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