Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

While watching the film ‘Seraphim Falls’, which was a fine film by the way, I was nonetheless complaining that with that movie we have an American Western staring a couple of non-americans in Pierce Brosnan and Liam Neeson. A year later we have another American Western, probably the only film genre that we as a country actually own, despite the fact it was hijacked by the Italians in the late sixties to early seventies, starring an Aussie (Russell Crowe) and an Englishman (Christian Bale). Is there no American actor who is rough enough or tough enough to play in an American Western? I’ll admit that none are jumping into my head at the present but I’m sure there must be an American actor SOMEWHERE who is worthy to play in an  AMERICAN western. I can’t conceivably see this unknown American actor doing a better job in the roles of desperado Ben Wade and wanna be hero Dan Evans than Crow and Bale did in the ‘3:10 to Yuma’ remake, but that’s not the point. They are not Americans! This rant of nationalistic pride was brought to you by the commission to keep American actors out of Botox shots, Bikini Waxes and man purses.

Ben Wade (Crowe) is a bad man. He and his legendary gang of hoodlums has just hijacked a stage coach loaded with Pinkerton agents and loot, killing all the agents except for one agent McElroy (Peter Fonda) who he let live with a bullet in his gut. Ben Wade is also a brash man going back to the town where the coach was slated to arrive, grabbing a drink in a bar and bedding the bar maid in the process. Whatever Ben Wade is, Dan Evans (Bale) is the opposite. A hard working one legged civil war vet, Dan is trying to care for his dying farm, raise his two boys, and take care of his pretty wife with no money. The town heavy has burnt down his barn because his land is blocking the path of the proposed railway, his eldest son William (Logan Lerman) is

openly disrespectful to him and his wife Alice (Gretchen Mol) looks upon him with pity. At the local tavern Ben Wade pretty much allows himself to be captured, not fearing anyone with the full knowledge that his crew will set him free come hell or high water, but lawman Dallas Roberts offers a nice tidy bounty for anybody who can assist him in making the trip to Yuma where there will be a train to take Ben Wade to justice. Desperate, Dan Evans jumps on board.

In hindsight this may have been a mistake because Wade’s crew led by his psychotic no. 2 Charlie Prince (Ben Foster) will stop at nothing to free their boss. Not that it’s even necessary because it’s fairly obvious early on that Wade is toying with this posse, killing a few who rub him the wrong way on their long journey and playing with the rest, including Dan’s son William who has snuck along for the ride. But Wade isn’t the only issue as there are Indians out to kill train track builders and dangerous terrain to navigate before they can even make it to Yuma. And they when they get to Yuma there is a welcoming party like no other waiting for them, but Dan Evans will try and make it from the hotel to train depot with Wade in tow. Dan Evans, we wish you luck.

Good movie this ‘3:10 to Yuma’. An old school, hardened, tough western. I loved the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns, and own most of them, but the characters in those hugely entertaining films were largely one dimensional card board cut-outs. If someone could tell me why Henry Fonda’s character was so damn mean in ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ I’m all ears.  Director James Mangold, working off a script by Halsted Wells, among others, combines the brutality of a Sergio Leone Western with the thoughtful sensibility of a modern war film. The main characters are clearly defined; bad guy, good guy but they possess multiple layers. Ben Wade will slit your throat, but not without a perceived good reason and is thoughtful, well read, honorable and we are to believe a product of his environment. Dan Evans is a good man trying to do the right thing, but he is unsure, nervous and up until a few days ago, a weak man who has chosen the worst possible moment to finally stand up for something.

Yes, the characters are well realized, the dialog crisp and authentic, the performances are top notch but Mangold never forgets that this is a Western and whatever visions we once had of the old west that weren’t stripped away by ‘Deadwood’, Mangold restores with glorious mind numbing violence. I am pretty sure the crown for most folks to die by gunfire in 2007 will be awarded to ‘3:10 to Yuma’ as barely nary a character who appears on screen doesn’t suck up a bullet in some way shape or form, and the film was all the better for it.

Though I haven’t seen the fifty year old original ‘3:10 to Yuma’, I think it would be difficult for it be as well crafted as James Mangold’s incarnation which combines the best elements of violence and characters since the last great American Western, ‘Unforgiven’. There you go! Clint Eastwood. That's the American we need.  If we can ignore the fact the he’s seventy six.

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