3:10 to Yuma (2007)

Rated R. Our ratings: V- 6; L- 2; S/N -1. Running time: 2 hours

In the Lord I take refuge; how can you say to me,
‘Flee like a bird to the mountains;
for look, the wicked bend the bow,
they have fitted their arrow to the string,
to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart.
If the foundations are destroyed,
what can the righteous do?’
The Lord is in his holy temple;
the Lord’s throne is in heaven.
His eyes behold, his gaze examines humankind.
The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked,
and his soul hates the lover of violence.
On the wicked he will rain coals of fire and sulphur;
a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.
For the Lord is righteous;
he loves righteous deeds;
the upright shall behold his face.
Psalm 11

Over the years, just when the Western is de clared dead, a new one arises that re-invigo rates the hoary genre. Such is the case with James Mangold’s remake of the 1957 film 3:10 to Yuma. Although the stars of the original version, Glenn Ford and Van Heflin, were two of my favorite actors at the time, I believe that Russell Crowe and Christian Bale bring a far deeper psychological nuance to their characters than the earlier actors, thus making this a better film. The script by Halsted Welles, Michael Brandt and Derek Haas changes a few of the details, and unfortunately goes a bit over the top in the shoot-out at the climax. Both versions, of course, expand upon their source, a short story by Elmore Leonard that appeared in a pulp Western magazine in the 1940s.

Ben Wade (L) and the posse that will take him to stand trial in a distant town. Dan is at the upper R.
(c) 2007 Lionsgate Films

Dan Evans (Christian Bale), a veteran who lost his leg in the Civil War, is an Arizona rancher fighting an uphill battle for survival. A gang burns his barn because he has refused to sell his ranch to them, their leader planning to make a profit from land deals with the railroad that will be coming through the area. Dan feels that his wife Alice (Gretchen Mol) and two sons do not respect him, especially teenaged William (Logan Lerman) when Dan is ineffective when the night raiders burn their barn. The area itself is dry (there hasn’t been a drop of rain in months) and dangerous, with remnants of Apache bands still lurking about, and a brutal gang of robbers led by Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) robbing stage coaches and banks close by. Indeed, the exploits of Ben Wade have become so famous that he is the subject of dime novels—we see William reading one at the beginning of the picture.

Dan is desperate to save his ranch, so when Ben Wade becomes careless and is captured in nearby Bisbee, Dan volunteers for $200 to join the small band that will escort Wade to the town of Contention where he will be taken on the 3:10 train to Yuma for trial and hanging. Dan had already met Wade when he and his two sons were out rounding up their cattle and came across the aftermath of a stage holdup, during which the gang had killed the driver and guards and wounded bounty hunter Byron McElroy (Peter Fonda). Wade takes their horses, but then leaves them down the trail to be found. Dan sends his boys off to roundup the cattle while he takes McElroy to Bisbee for medical treatment.

It is a long way from Bisbee to Contention, and a lot can and does happen along the way. There are the Apaches, the gang members led by Charlie Prince (Ben Foster), Wade’s second in command who has a special attachment to his boss, and Wade himself. Though a cold blooded killer, Ben Wade is very intelligent and senses a kindred intelligence in Dan. The latter at first will have no conversation with him, but the longer they are together, the more his resolve weakens, until in Contention, with Wade’s gang gunning for him, he shares the secret of how he lost his leg. Wade admires his captor’s tenacity and new found bravery, which leads to unexpected results at the end of the gun battle. I am not sure that I buy Wade’s motivation, but as Westerns go, this is the best to come along in a long time, thanks to good direction and superb acting from all of the cast. Like most Westerns there is little questioning of violence: the gun regarded by virtually everyone as necessary for survival.

For Reflection/Discussion

1) How does this film compare to another that also involves clocks and the arrival of a train? How is each of the heroes forced to go it alone in their confrontation? And yet who during the showdown did find an ally?

2) The Western has often been called a morality play: how does this one fit that category?

In the depiction of the good and the bad how are each—Dan and Ben—shown to be a mixture, rather than cardboard cutout figures?

3) What do you think it is about Dan that Ben Wade apparently comes to admire? Were you convinced that the outlaw would do what he does at the end of the film? How is the ending somewhat ambiguous: that is, what follows the train as it rounds out of sight?

4) Who is it that often quotes the Bible? What does this suggest about just reading and knowing the Scriptures: what is lacking here? What do you think that he might have said if the saying of Jesus were directed at him, “He who lives by the sword dies by the sword” ?

5) The paper book that William is reading at the beginning of the film was one of many written that romanticized the West, even to the point of glorifying outlaws like Ben Wade, Jesse James and Billy the Kid being the best known. Why do you think writers and the public make heroes out of robbers and killers? Because we all want to rebel against society? Or—? Note how Hollywood did this in many of its gangster movies; and more recently television in The Sopranos.

6) Unlike Ben Wade, Dan Evans will never become the subject of a dime novel: what legacy do you think he will leave his family? How is this more important than fame or fortune?