3:10 to Yuma (2007)
Starring: Christian Bale, Russell Crowe, Ben Foster, Alan Tudyk, Gretchen Mol, Peter Fonda, Logan Lerman, Dallas Roberts
Directed by: James Mangold
The buzz around 3:10 to Yuma is that it’s the best western since Unforgiven and will help usher the genre back into pop culture. Since I’m not really a fan of the genre, I didn’t really care either way (to be clear, I’m not not a fan either. I have nothing against the genre; I’m just not a genuine fan of it). What interested me more about the buzz is that “best since” talk suggested that 3:10 to Yuma was a quality movie, which generally don’t get released in the first couple weeks of September.
Studios generally use late August to the end of September as a dumping grounds for movies they didn’t consider summer moneymakers and don’t consider award hopefuls, especially with back to school keeping kids and parents busy. This is a problem for me, since I’m not tied to a calendar and would prefer to have good movies to watch throughout the year. The bigger problem is that the good movies tend to all come out at once, which makes it really difficult to catch them all. So I was hoping that its release might change this attitude.
First, it had to be good to fit into my “good movies in September” hope. Luckily, it is a very good movie, and not just for genre fans (I can say that, since I’m not one). Christian Bale and Russell Crowe are both excellent in their roles, giving restrained performances suitable to the grizzled old west setting. I’m a fan of both performers (in terms of their work, I care very little about their personal affairs), as both tend to deliver quality performances in everything they do, and this is no exception. Both play complicated characters, eschewing black and white divisions to reveal multiple sides to their characters.
Bale stars as Dan Evans, a civil war veteran struggling to keep his ranch when drought leaves him owing money. While heading out to settle things with those looking to shut down his ranch, he and his sons witness a vicious stagecoach robbery by the infamous Ben Wade’s (Crowe) gang. Wade lets Evans and his sons pass (after relieving them of their horses to prevent a pursuit), but after Wade is captured in town, Dan Evans volunteers to help take him to the town of Contention, to catch the 3:10 train to the Yuma prison, where Wade will be executed.
The movie then becomes a tense road movie, with Evans and crew (including Peter Fonda as bounty hunter Byron McElroy and Alan Tudyk as Doc Potter) making the long trek while trying to contain Wade and evade his crew. Director James Mangold maintains an excellent pace throughout the movie, keeping the audience near or at the edge of their seat without letting the story get repetitive. Elements of the story are familiar to this particular kind of film, with danger lurking around every corner and the group dwindling as time goes by.
Luckily, the action is exciting enough and the performances are strong enough that some of the more familiar plot points don’t hamper what is a very good movie. It’s certainly a more visceral western than those I’m used to (admittedly, a small sample size). Along with Bale and Crowe, the standout in the cast is Ben Foster as Wade’s right hand man Charlie Prince. Prince is the least physically intimidating member of Wade’s crew, yet Foster infuses him with such menace that he quickly becomes the most dynamic and frightening character in the movie, including Wade himself. Since the movie wanted to do something different with Wade’s character besides being a simple bad guy, it was important to give the movie a proper villain, and Foster fills that role superbly.
So, yes, 3:10 to Yuma is the elusive great movie released in early September. Unfortunately, I can’t see it starting a trend of great September movies, as it only did $14 million worth of business in its opening weekend (which was good for first place, telling you how dead movie theatres are at this time of the year). The same thing happened earlier this year with the March release of Zodiac, another great film released at a traditionally dead time at the box office that was unable to achieve the audience it deserves. So I guess the studio bean counters are right about release dates after all, and we can continue to expect them to keep cramming their best projects into two periods of the year (summer blockbuster season and winter award season), then using the other 8 months of the year to throw out lazy crap. It must be the way moviegoers like it.