cowboys and decisions

310 to Yuma I watched 3:10 to Yuma (2007) a few days back. I highly recommend it. It’s a remake of a 1957 Western of the same name, which is based on an Elmore Leonard short story. I’ve never seen the original film, but if it’s half as good as the remake then it’s worth checking out too. James Mangold directs this remake, and the script is handled by a team that includes the original screenwriter, Halsted Welles, as well as the writing duo Michael Brandt and Derek Haas

The story revolves around Dan Evans (Christian Bale) a rancher whose family is threatened with eviction from their holding due to a combination of drought, debts, and the arrival of a train line close to their land. Dan’s foot was amputated years previously while he served during the American Civil War, and he struggles to keep his dignity in the face of this crisis before his wife Alice (Gretchen Mol), and two sons William (Logan Lerman) and Mark.

Into their troubles rides the notorious outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) and his vicious gang, including the ferociously loyal Charlie Prince (Ben Foster). Wade is captured, and Dan joins the posse that plans to deliver Wade to the 3:10 to Yuma prison train that will deliver Wade to justice and the gallows.

The engine of the story is driven by a simple question: can Dan deliver Wade to the train without being gunned down by Wade’s gang, or the many other people who hate Wade with a passion? Yet, what makes the film so gripping is the complexities of the characters, with Bale and Crowe putting in terrific performances.

Dan comes to represent Wade’s beleaguered conscience – Wade repeatedly offers Dan money in the hopes of an easy escape. But Dan realises over the course of the film that it’s more important that he regain the respect of his impressionable son William, and show William the importance of leading a moral life. Wade is a stone cold killer… and yet he indicates a conflicted attitude towards his career and even his own gang members. He acts like a man who believes he deserves to die, but is too good at killing and surviving to allow it to happen.

Women don’t feature in the film. Alice is the beautiful wife with little to say or do except symbolise what Dan has to lose, and there’s an obligatory sex scene with a bar maid/prostitute. In some ways it’s better that they are so lightly sketched instead of assigning them a false importance. The film is about the chase across the countryside, the shoot-outs, and the action between the warring men. Mostly, it’s about the fascinating relationship between Dan and Wade – a Saint and Tempter dynamic where the ownership of Dan’s soul is at stake.

All the supporting actors are marvellous, from William, Dan’s son, to Foster’s fantastic performance as the psychotic gang member, and Peter Fonda as Byron McElroy, a bounty hunter whose past actions indicate an indifference about moral choices. When you consider this all originates from a Leonard short story it’s not surprising. Leonard doesn’t do black and white characters. He understands the strange paradoxical motivations of people. As Wade says, “even bad men love their mommas.”