Well, September 7th, 2007: you didn't let me down. Since the beginning of the summer, we've been participating in the tradition of Western Wednesdays, but the western genre is definitely not my favorite. It's extremely hit or miss in my opinion, and 3:10 to Yuma was undoubtedly a hit. While it was certainly no Shoot 'Em Up, that's what made it so great: the complex nature of the characters, rather than reliance on special effects and unnecessary action scenes, drew the audience in and led us headfirst toward the unavoidable train station finale.
James Mangold (check this guy out - he's done some cool stuff) directed this stunning tale based on the short story of Elmore Leonard (the writer of Get Shorty and Be Cool). Mangold is obviously incredibly talented, and nowhere is that more evident than his use of casual suspense (I didn't think there was such a thing) in this movie. From before the audience even sits down to watch, the title already has us wanting to know what happens on that train to Yuma. The film answers that question by following Civil War veteran Dan Evans as he volunteers to escort the notorious criminal Ben Wade to the train station in return for two hundred dollars for his struggling ranch.
The acting in this film was absolutely masterful. Russell Crowe and Christian Bale proved once again that they are two of the top actors in their generation by giving nuanced performances that were some of the best I've seen in a long time (especially since neither one of them is American!). Ben Foster, although more one-dimensional, was also spellbinding as Charlie Prince, Ben Wade's fiercely loyal sidekick. His utter devotion and heartless lack of morality makes him a classic western character sure to be remembered in the genre far in the future. Western legend Peter Fonda joins the ride as a lawman wounded by Wade's gang, and the surprisingly talented (and apparently go-to actor for his age) Logan Lerman plays the son of Bale's character. Rounding out the cast with arguably nothing more than cameos are Luke Wilson and Alan "Steve the Pirate" Tudyk.
The aspect of this movie that really fascinated me was the dual father-son relationships presented in Dan Evans and his son contrasted with Ben Wade and Charlie Prince. The relationships between the two sets of characters could not be any more different at the beginning of the film, but as it progressed they seemed to switch roles. At the start, Prince is unshakably loyal to Ben Wade; the perfect right hand man.* Conversely, William Evans thought his father was a gutless coward and didn't respect him at all. As the movie went on, Dan gains the respect of his son and Wade loses the respect of Charlie Prince. I'm not going to give away the ending (which is an awesome shoot out Open Range style), so I'll just leave it at that for now.
*All right, I'm going to throw this out there. Some of you won't like it, but I'm doing it anyway. As much as you want to deny it (Branz), everyone knows that a good portions of westerns have an underlying theme of homosexuality that runs through them. In 3:10 to Yuma, on two nonconsecutive occasions, Ben Wade makes references to bright green eyes, "the greenest he's ever seen." The only character that I saw in the whole movie with green eyes were the piercing green eyes of his right hand man, Charlie Prince. I'm not saying anything, but you know - I'm just saying. This is not a coincidence; the director did this for a reason. Draw your own conclusions.
3:10 to Yuma was mainly a character-driven film - full of various thematic elements ranging from the aforementioned father-son bonds, to the perception of time, and more. The action fell into place toward the end as a necessity, so it didn't feel forced or like a "required" gunfight; this contributed to a nice sense of realism for the overall film. There were very few special effects used in the production, which also helped with the realism. One final note: Mangold did a great job taking the traditional "good guy in white, bad guy in black" concept of the western and turning it on its head by decking out Charlie Prince (the most evil of all the characters) in a white jacket. This purposefully calls attention to Prince's morality (or lack thereof), and adds to the theme present throughout the movie that things aren't always what they appear to be on the surface.
Honestly, this doesn't really need to be seen in the theater. Since there aren't really any big special effects, that isn't a factor, and unlike most westerns, Mangold chose not to fall into the cliche of showing huge expanses of mesa and sweeping camera long shots of a lone figure out on the prairie. You'll be fine with renting this when it comes out. If nothing else, see it for the performances of the lead characters and as a truly enjoyable movie in a genre where those are heard to come by. Plus, that poster is really sweet. Until next time...