A Western to Crowe About
As a western fan one of the best things about the decline of the western is that when one does slip through the noose and gets made it's usually great and very rarely just average. As is the case of James Mangold's remake of "3:10 to Yuma" starring Christian Bale and Russell Crowe, it is a movie which takes all that was good about the western and given it a modern over haul. That means that whilst we have gunfights, apaches, good guys and bad guys and all manner of western cliches none of it ends up feeling like a cliche, it feels classy and more than just a western. As such "3:10 to Yuma" achieves two things, it entertains on the simplest level through the action and performances but then on another it explores the various characters in particular those of Dan Evans and Ben Wade played by Christian Bale and Russell Crowe.
With the fret of foreclosure on his ranch Dan Evans (Christian Bale - The Prestige) along with his sons head off to Bisbee to try and sort the mess out when they come across Ben Wade (Russell Crowe - A Good Year) and his gang robbing the stagecoach. Not long after Dan fins himself joining the posse of law men who having arrested Wade want to take him to the 3:10 to Yuma train in Contention. But the journey is not a simple one as not only is Wade a deviously manipulative prisoner but between angry rail workers, Indians and Wade's gang lead by the evil Charlie Prince (Ben Foster - Hostage) there is constant trouble. Plus Dan's son Will (Logan Lerman) sneaks away from the ranch to join them having idolised Ben in the stories he's read about him.
As previously mentioned "3:10 to Yuma" works on the simplest level, it is entertaining and works through what is a relatively simple storyline. This storyline of Dan Evans helping a posse of lawmen to escort Ben Wade to a prison train is full of action and danger as the journey involves angry Indians, even angrier railway workers whilst the whole time Wade's gang lead by the almost deranged Charlie Prince try to help their boss escape. As such it plays out beautifully with great action scene after great action scene whilst all the time the devious Ben Wade tries to manipulate those around him on a psychological level.
But what makes "3:10 to Yuma" so much more than just a western built on action is the different layers built around the characters those of Dan and Ben but also Charlie and Dan's son Will. Take Dan an ex soldier with a wooden leg who has lost the support of his family as he stubbornly tries to build a life for them on a ranch despite making a poor job of it. We understand that he is a proud man, a man of honour who could sell out in many a way but never does because he has a moral code he follows. This makes Dan a great nemesis for Ben Wade who is more than just a bad guy; he is a reader of men and so likes to get under their skin. But he is more complex than that because he is a killer, someone who doesn't think twice when it comes to murder, yet somehow the time spent with Dan brings a different side of him out, not so much a compassionate side but an empathy towards Dan. Just these two characters and the development in their characters makes "3:10 to Yuma" much more interesting.
But there is more to it than just these two characters and you have Will Evans a boy who starts of almost despising his father for what seems to him to be an inability to make a stand yet as time passes and he sees his father leading the posse of lawmen grows to respect him. And Charlie Prince the devoted second in command to Ben Wade who will stop at absolutely nothing to save his boss. I hate to say this but there is almost a case of love going on here with Charlie so in love with Ben that everything he does is to please him. Yet Charlie is also a cold killer, a brutal killer who seems to get off on murder.
This, the exploration of characters and how they interact and transform as the movie goes on makes it so good. But even if you are not into this deeper level of context "3:10 to Yuma" still delights with action. It maybe a bit laborious in places but watching the fights, the horse chases through the hills, the powerful gun action it is a brilliant movie on a visual level.
Because "3:10 to Yuma" works so well on two levels you have to say that the performances are spot on. Christian Bale is magnificent as Dan Evans finding the right sense of stubbornness but also shows this sense of wondering as he even questions his own moral beliefs. Then there is Russell Crowe who seems to be enjoying every moment of playing the complex Ben Wade revelling in not only being a killer but someone who behind the smile enjoys getting under people's skins, manipulating them psychologically. These two, Bale and Crowe being central to everything are brilliant and make "3:10 to Yuma" works so well.
But Bale and Crowe are not alone and all the cast from Logan Lerman as Will Evans, Peter Fonda as Byron McElroy and Gretchen Mol as Alice Evans all deliver strong performances making their characters 3 dimensional even when they have such few scenes. But it is Ben Foster as the almost psychotic Charles Prince who nearly steals the movie away from Bale and Crowe. Foster creates such a dangerous character, pure evil flowing out of his pores as he takes joy in murder yet his loyalty to Ben almost borders on being love. It's fascinating and makes the climax of the movie so spectacular.
What this all boils down to is that "3:10 to Yuma" is a brilliant modern western. It delivers on the simplest level providing entertainment through action and what are almost western cliches. But then it delivers this deeper level as we watch the characters of Dan, Ben, Will and Charlie develop, their emotions and feelings change as the story unfolds. The only negative is that at just 122 minutes isn't very long but there are times where it all feels laborious as if director James Mangold felt he had to draw out a scene to make a point when in reality he didn't.