Big budget high-profile western movies have become rare in recent years. Quentin Tarantino has made two “westerns” (Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight) recently but they are really just Tarantino movies that take place in a western setting. Defining a western is not an easy task but it is more than riding horses and killing bad guys in the unsettled western frontier of America. They have a gritty character driven atmosphere.
3:10 to Yuma is a modern western, one that had a decent budget, star power, and the feel of an epic. Released in 2007, this is a remake of the movie of the same name that came to theaters way back in 1957. Both movies are based on the short story written by the cinematic influencing author Elmore Leonard.
Directed by the experienced James Mangold (Copland), staring Russel Crowe, Christian Bale, Ben Foster, and many great supporting actors such as Peter Fonda, Gretchen Mol, and Logan Lerman, with a budget of $55 million, there was hope that this movie would deliver an enjoyable western experience.
This movie at times has a feel of a movie set freshly built to look rustic and dusty, but the acting and the story completely overshadow the production limitations. The story is simple and easy to follow which doesn’t intrude on the setting and the characters. Dan Evans (Christian Bale), Ben Wade (Russell Crowe), and Charlie Prince (Ben Foster) drive the story, the story doesn’t drive them.
Dan Evans is a poor rancher in charge of a failing farm, unhappy wife, and two sons. He lost a leg in the civil war and is in major debt due to a drought preventing him from growing crops and producing healthy cattle. He represents the honest, hard-working, poor population of the frontier.
Ben Wade is the complete opposite of Evans, he is a powerful gang leader who has a successful career of robbing Pinkerton stagecoaches. He has killed countless men with his crucifix bearing gun named “the hand of god.”He is intelligent and aware of his wrong doings but he feels it is man’s nature to take what he wants. Wade is accompanied by his loyal and ruthless gang member Charlie Prince.
Evans and Wade cross paths shortly after a murderous looting of a Pinkerton stagecoach close to Evans ranch. Both then make their way to the nearby town of Bisbee where Wade and his gang celebrate their prosperous crime and Evans goes to the bank to discuss his debts that he can’t pay off. Both men interact again at the saloon where Evans distracts Wade long enough to be captured by the local marshal.
This is where the plot advances. Wade has stolen from 22 Pinkerton stagecoaches totaling in hundreds of thousands of dollars of damages and the law wants him to finally meet justice. A scheduled trip to prison was established, they just needed to get Wade on the train in Contention at 3:10 going to Yuma. Volunteers were needed to escort Wade to the train which was considered to be suicide mission due to inevitable attack from Wade’s gang led by Charlie Prince.
In desperate need of money, Evans volunteers.
To avoid rehashing the entire plot, a group of 6 men (one being a famous criminal) embark on a strenuous journey to make a train. Sleeping outside, telling stories, braving Native American attacks, an honest man vs. a criminal; that is a great western storyline.
The most enjoyable aspect of this movie is the characters. They are all characterized in subtle ways that reveal their true nature. From the clothes that they wear, the guns that they wield, and the horses that they mount all tell an individual story.
Wade wears a black three-piece suit accompanied with a unique black hat that is implied to be very important to him. The horse with which he has a close relationship with is also black and quickly runs to his side whenever wade gives a quiet whistle. As mentioned earlier, his black 6 shooter revolver which has crucifix on the handle is called “the hand of god.” This is the only gun (except for the very end of the movie) that Wade wields in the film.
Evans is clothed in dirty worn out attire with a flimsy old hat. His horse is also rugged and old in which Evans gets off gently and slowly (mostly due to having a wooden leg). The gun Evans carries is an inefficient outdated rifle that requires him to pump and cock after firing each bullet.
Charlie Prince is the most frightening character in this movie. He is extremely loyal to Wade and kills everyone and everything in his way to release Wade from his captures. He wears a loud outfit with a button down jacket and orange pants that match his orange horse. Every time he dismounts his horse he jumps off swiftly wasting no time walking to his destination. Prince has two powerful revolvers with which he kills many with his quick draw skills.
The relationship that forms between Evans and Wade in this movie is its strongest attribute. Two contrasting men form a bond which comes to an emotional conclusion. The journey, the characters, the honor, the greed, are all ingredients for a successful western.