3:10 to Yuma (2007)

When it’s on: Sunday, 1 July (10.00 pm)
Channel: Channel 5
IMDb Link

Delmer Daves adapted Elmore Leonard’s short story, 3:10 to Yuma, for the screen in 1957, putting together a psychological Western that did as much as any to undermine the clear cut eternal tale of good guys and villains. Glenn Ford played a wanted outlaw who was captured and sent with a posse (which included Van Heflin’s small-time rancher) to boom town Contention in order to catch the ten past three train to Yuma’s prison. Ford’s gang hunted him for themselves, determined to retrieve their leader, and Heflin faced a race against time to deliver Ford to the service as they closed in. Despite the simplistic plot, the film focused heavily on Ford’s charismatic baddie, a fully rounded character who needled Heflin all the way to his destiny but had the humanity to do what was right in the end.

A big fan of the film, James Mangold was eventually handed a sizeable $50 million budget to remake it half a century later. He’d already done so unofficially with his earlier Copland, which carried overtones of High Noon, the Zimmerman classic that cast a shadow over Daves’s 3:10 to Yuma. But now he could take a stab at the real thing. Not only did the money allow him to make a fine looking picture, it also gave him the opportunity to assemble an excellent cast. Russell Crowe took on Ford’s outlaw, Ben Wade, whilst unlikely hero Dan Evans was offered to Christian Bale. Two of Hollywood’s hottest talents were thereby on board, and with them Mangold could delve deeper into their stories in order to make the shift in the characters’ attitudes credible to twenty first century audiences.

For me, Bale’s been one of the most versatile actors for some years. Possessing the kind of inscrutable handsomeness that makes him capable of turning from terrible to good characters at will, he’s called on here to do more than repeat Heflin’s noble ‘blue collar’ worker. His Evans is a Civil War veteran who’s lost a leg in the fighting and has since taken up ranching with his family. The move’s a thankless one as drought threatens his livelihood, making him easy pickings for the creditors who torch his barn due to his inability to keep up the payments. His elder son William (Logan Lerman) despises him, while he has the awful sense of failing his wife, played by Gretchen Mol. He takes the job of accompanying Wade to Contention because the $200 reward is something he can’t turn down. In short, he’s an obviously more pathetic character than in the earlier version.

As for Crowe, there’s a marvellous undercurrent of violence to his character. The charisma, surface sensitivity, articulacy and dab-handedness with sketching aside, the impression one gets is of a man who can turn on the nastiness at any moment, and do it with a smile. Crowe seems to love playing the outlaw whose more than just a heavy, almost as though he knows he’s got the plum ‘Glenn Ford’ role and slips with ease from soft spoken charm to ultra-violence.

Just as it did in the original, 3:10 to Yuma turns on the conversation between Dan and Wade in the Contention hotel room as they await the train’s arrival. Whilst the impending violence builds up outside, both men learn about each other, develop some mutual respect and get the sense that each has something the other misses from their lives. Penniless Dan is both appalled and tempted by the possibility of large sums of money Wade offers to him in exchange for freedom. The outlaw envies his unlikely captor for the stability of a quiet family life. It’s a riveting sequence in the film. Both actors are easily the equal of the lines they’re speaking and what is implied behind them, giving their banter a natural quality that grows organically in terms of affection.

Whereas Daves’s film makes the hotel its focus, perhaps mindful of the lower costs involved in filming on a single set, Mangold splices a number of action scenes before we get to this stage, covering the journey to Contention through Apache held territory that the 1957 picture glossed over. There’s also much more of Wade’s gang in this one, in particular his deputy (Ben Foster) who emerges as both a psychopath and devoted to his captured leader. The gunfights, when they happen (and they do, a lot), involve cannon-loud shots that earned the Sound Mixing department an Academy Award nomination.

3:10 to Yuma: ***

7 Replies to “3:10 to Yuma (2007)”

  1. I usually look forward to new westerns since they’ve become such a rarity. That was certainly the case when this first came out. But I don’t like it. Maybe my fondness for the original clouds my opinion, but I’d like to think that’s not the case.

    Firstly, I honestly don’t believe the opening up of Leonard’s story and expanding on the journey to Contention is at all necessary; it just pads the running time, doesn’t fill out the characters any, and slows the pace. Then there’s the grafting of all the post-modern inadequacies onto the script (the grumpy, disrespectful son, the dissatisfied wife) that just kill any sense of time or place as far as I’m concerned.

    And finally, the characterization is wrong. bale plays Evans (or at least the script has him do so) as a total loser – a beaten, pathetic figure who draws scorn rather than sympathy, and is only incidentally honourable. As for Crowe’s Wade, I didn’t really get much sense of charm from him – danger at times, but that’s only one aspect of what should be a complex character – and there’s too much gruff oafishness.

    I’ll grant the action scenes are well enough handled, although they do try too hard to suggest a spaghetti western.

    No, I don’t like it.

    1. Thanks Colin. Like you, I really like the original and I read your comparative piece on the two films before watching the 2007 film. For me, Bale’s characterisation was fine enough. As we learn why he’s persevered with the ranch, which appears to be a dead end living, the whole reason for his family situation starts to come to light. The whole family seems frustrated, whereas his own ‘loser’ status makes sense in light of the truth behind his lost leg. Perhaps there’s too much emphasis on serving reasons to the audience for his motivation (suggesting 1950s viewers would be happy enough with an out and out good man, which seems condescending but, to me, not unusual in contemporary cinema), but Bale’s up to the task and the pain in his life is all there in the performance.

      But yes, I’d agree with the padding of the road to Contention. It doesn’t add anything, throws in an ‘escape story’ that isn’t really necessary and gives Mangold an excuse for an action set piece on the railroad construction site, though I thought it was pretty exciting.

      But did the 1957 film need to be remade? No, not really. Daves’s Western for me was a well constructed exercise in tension that owed something to High Noon without overplaying the fact and drew a quite outstanding performance from Glenn Ford. Action was second to characterisation, which really worked, and this aspect was part lost in the gun play of the update.

      1. I think the problem I have with the majority of remakes does boil down to the question: did it need to be remade?
        The answer, generally, seems to be no. For a remake to have any worth it must necessarily bring something new to the table. In the case of this film, the new stuff was all in the form of updating i.e. padding the story, and altering characterizations to fit 21st century sensibilities. AQ film like True Grit, on the other hand, resisted that tendency to pander to current mores and instead returned to its source to find material that would offer a different perspective. The result is a much better, more justifiable, and less irritating remake.

  2. Ultimately it is a question of whether the remake works on its own terms – most don’t, some do (OCEAN’S 11, MALTESE FALCON, SCARFACE) – I am slightly on the fence about this one. I agree with Colin that the Bale character seems just to weak to want to invest anything in as a viewer while Crowe, even with all the good lines, is a little lacking in charm. I prefer the original and I’m not convinced that takes us to somewhere new, but I will say this Mike – you have definitely persuaded me to give it another go. Thanks for that.

    1. Thanks Sergio. I agree the original is a tighter and altogether better film, but personally I like the update, and I quite like the two leads also. With Bale, I guess it’s a case of the loser redeeming himself in the eyes of his son, which works for me, whereas Crowe, again for me, comes with bags of charisma. But, as I think you’re getting at, I don’t suppose it is a film that works on its own terms but in direct comparison with the original. It doesn’t have anything new especially to bring to the table, just raises the odds and throws in some extra action scenes.

      And yet I liked it, and whether that’s because it was a strong concept to begin with or via strong qualities within the film, it did okay for me.

      1. Mike, I think you have something there about the strong concept, and a lot of credit for that surely belongs to Leonard. I don’t know if you’ve sampled any of his western fiction but I recommend it. He may be better known these days for his crime stories but his westerns are excellent and highly readable. Apart from the short stories, Hombre, Valdez is Coming & The Law at Randado are all well worth checking out.

      2. Thanks Colin – I’ll check him out. I’ve always enjoyed the crime novels of his that I’ve read, so definitely worth a purchase. Apologies, once again, to the credit card.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s