Review: _3:10 to Yuma_


Planning on having a bite and pausing this film and doing some chores, I nonetheless played this one to its term.

The whole movie has so much momentum; the narrative does not seem to have wasted space or wasted characters. Like There Will Be Blood, the film fits so well into its Western genre that it helps define what a modern Western can be. And as with all good films within the genre, the final finish -- the gunfight at the O.K. Corral -- 3:10 to Yuma promises so much, but still comes through.

Casting Christian Bale and Russell Crowe against one another couldn't fail. Both actors get it; they just go to work. Consider if you were to play a post-Civil War veteran down on his luck in outback Arizona? What would be on your mind if your son had tuberculosis, and your other son thought you weak because you couldn't pay your debts, or feed your family fully, for that matter? Bale's characterization is supple and believable, in a role that has much similarity with Josh Brolin's character Llewelyn Moss in No Country for Old Men: a pawn that's had enough of the simple life, and tests his mettle against the vicious.

But the intelligent addition for Dan Evans (Bale's character) is that he fights for his family, in a lawless Old West where taking advantage of others is "man's nature," as Crowe's character Ben Wade puts it. And stark inequalities and viciousness are not the robber Wade's territory; Dan Evans takes on the task of delivering Wade to the 3:10 to Yuma train because a banker burns his barn after he falls behind on paying down his debt. "That land is worth more without you than with you, with the trains coming," he says.

The film beautifully places Good and Bad under erasure -- suspend your judgment. While a killer and thief, Wade's father was murdered and his mother abandoned him, and he used his natural gifts to first memorize the Bible and second to become a slippery genius outlaw -- one that can tempt any woman, and also a skilled sketch artist. Lawmen become cowards, "posses" work Chinese immigrants to make railroads, and, perhaps most tellingly, the man who burned down Evans' barn soon becomes his partner in transporting Wade, only to be killed by Wade. Evans says in response to this, "Wishing a man dead and doing it are two different things."

The final sequence shows how great films create a space for the climax to succeed. Evans' son has refused to stay home and instead is Dan Evans' final partner in putting Wade on the train, seeking excitement, but also wanting to find his father as a hero instead of peasant. When everyone gives up under the threat of death, Evans soldiers on, his death all too likely. He proves his mettle with the ruthless, which teaches Wade about respect and even friendship.

When Wade rides off in the train with his trusty horse trailing, and Evans finally having taken care of his family for good, we are satisfied -- especially with the classic "everyone dies" ending, vis-a-vis Hamlet.

Yes, the film recalls Unforgiven; my favorite aspect is how the action is undergirded by us slowly learning the backstory of the Bale and Crowe characters. One flaw was that the filmmaker did not seem to find "huge" Arizona shots -- the shots seemed to be limited in view because of modern elements; why not remove them with digital photography, and offer a spectacular Arizona sunset? One "suspension of disbelief" aspect is how a ruthless killer with a ruthless posse chasing him down would merit staying alive, with his captor-transporters drop like flies.

Overall, this film is a great pleasure, and yet another reason that 2007 was an amazing year in cinema, along with the aforementioned No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood. One wouldn't think the Western could offer this much, with the themes of the Western -- violence, inequality, ruthlessness -- having so much to say about our time. But only 3:10 to Yuma offers us hope that some men are good, even if the villain gets away every time.
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