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3:10 to Yuma (2007)

by on 2011/06/25

 

“Thank me when it’s done.”

* * * *

Based on a short story by Elmore Leonard — who also inspired Get Shorty and Jackie Brown — and directed by Walk the Line’s James Mangold, 3:10 to Yuma was attempted before in 1957, although not nearly as successfully as here.

The movie begins with a focus on the Evans family, menaced by a local land baron. Despite pressure to sell his territory, Dan (Christian Bale of Batman Begins) intends to stay and make a go of ranching. His wife is less than supportive, and the eldest son William has lost faith in their way of life.

Their path intersects with a fugitive gang, led by Ben Wade (Russell Crowe of The Quick and the Dead) and his right hand lunatic (Ben Foster of 2011’s The Mechanic). In part to earn a large reward — and mostly to win his son’s approval — Dan accepts an assignment to accompany the captured prisoner from Bisbee to Contention, where a train will transfer the outlaw to the title’s Yuma jail.

Easier said than done. More than a menace of physical prowess, he’s an easygoing charmer who lowers the resistance of those in his presence. He employs an insidious combination of observation and provocation to manipulate his foes.

A common cliche would have the boy desperate to impress his father. In this case, however, it is the man who cannot earn the respect of his son for trying. Their fractious relationship proves fertile ground for the wily captive’s discord-sowing. His questions and comments prove highly divisive, whether he’s discussing Dan’s crippling war injury, or complimenting William’s gunplay.

But if the core is unconventional, then the fine details seem to echo the best of other westerns. A throwaway line about it being cheaper to let the villains rob a money shipment — at least compared to defending it against them — echoes a similar one in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. A recurring song, “Hang Me in the Morning” recalls “Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling” in High Noon, as do repeated reminders of time’s passage. Wade’s facility with the Evans’ matriarch reminded me both of Marian in Shane and Annie in Seven Men From Now.

And, just for luck, he wears a black hat and travels with seven gunslingers.

In truth, I was concerned about 3:10 to Yuma. I’d seen it before, in its theatrical debut, and was exceedingly impressed . . . enough so to seek out the original effort, which promptly disappointed me. I needn’t have been concerned. This western is one apparently wrought by a fan of other great westerns. Fortunately, it avoids the pitfalls of unevenness, and knows when to break convention to best effect.

* * * *

Rated 14A

123 minutes

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