Directed by: James Mangold
Written by: Halsted Welles, Michael Brandt, & Derek Haas
Starring: Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Peter Fonda, Gretchen Mol, Ben Foster, Dallas Roberts
Part of being a parent comes from the idea of leaving something behind in the world one you’re gone. Whether it be a family name or a legacy. One man’s quest proves that he wants to leave that impact by providing for his family even when having to harangue one of the biggest outlaws in the land.
Struggling to pay his debtors and provide for his family, Dan Evans (Christian Bale) gets the opportunity to receive a large payment for getting captured outlaw, Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) on a train headed for prison. This job provides much needed money for Evans’s family and the crew working with him, while Wade’s troupe seeks to set their leader free.
Pacing makes a difference with how anyone experiences this film and this iteration of 3:10 to Yuma indicates a different style for a new century. Many of the great westerns directed by John Ford or Sergio Leone have a distinct pace to them that allows for immersion into their film. They feel dry and move rather slowly, which represents a tactic that would not win people over in the 21st century. As a result, this film moves at such a quick pace and becomes more of an action movie in the process. It contains a strong emphasis on the fighting scenes and horse battles that ensue because it adjusts to modern tastes.
Two great actors duke it out with Christian Bale and Russell Crowe portraying very different characters. Bale’s character, Dan Evans, feels like a failure on multiple levels for his family. He cannot fully provide like he would prefer financially, but he also does not feel that he measures up as a man. That insecurity drives him to take the dangerous mission of transporting Wade and shows itself when he harbors the outlaw in his house. The moments where his sons look up to Wade more than their own father really gets to him and how he sees himself as a father and man. That drive pushes him beyond what he thought could be possible throughout this quest.
Russell Crowe, as Ben Wade, puts him a villain role that borders on anti-hero at times. While being a menacing figure, Crowe puts on the charm with everyone and especially women. He possesses a sense of suave to him in the role partly because he has the most well-kept hair in the entire film. Crowe’s charisma in the role allows the audience to like him even if he may be responsible for killing hundreds of people. Portraying Wade’s right-hand man, Charles Prince, is the always incredible Ben Foster. While Crowe serves as the big outlaw, Prince appears to be the most menacing throughout the entire film with a pure ruthlessness that becomes quite uncomfortable. Ben Foster loves himself some westerns and it shows with his strong performance as Prince.
James Mangold continues to jump genres and starts to solidify himself as a great director, who can navigate the studio system well. As he later proves with Logan and Ford v Ferrari, his films are exquisitely made and he shows himself being able to take on a Western. All of the action sequences appear to be slick and well-edited, which leaves all of the action visible to the audience rather than being a jumbled mess. Attaching his name to any project at this point guarantees that it will garner my interest as a studio filmmaker willing to use some interesting filmmaking techniques.
3:10 to Yuma defines a 21st century Western from its action sequences to its pacing. Once being the biggest genre in Hollywood, Westerns needed to adapt to a new audience as it lost its footing in the industry. Mangold found the correct formula with it having the action, but also the emotional fortitude of a story with characters worth rooting for. Dan Evans feels like a failure in life and the mission to deliver Wade becomes about much more than the financial gain for his family. A fight for pride but one that cannot be held against him. It has everything needed for an entertaining time than can be flipped on and enjoyed.