A decent but down-on-his-luck cowboy faces off against a charismatic and deadly outlaw in a new take on a classic Hollywood western co-starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. Alan Silverman has a look at 3:10 to Yuma.
Ben Wade is a bad man who has robbed so many banks, stagecoaches and trains in 1880's Arizona that, while his legend grows among local youngsters (thanks to sensational news reports and popular 'pulp' novels), he also becomes a prime target of lawmen and bounty hunters alike:
A careless moment - or, perhaps, a longing for a new challenge - and Wade is captured. When word reaches his ruthless outlaw gang, they are just as determined to break him free ...no matter who they have to kill.
Guarding the prisoner and determined to get him on the 3:10 train to Yuma is cattleman Dan Evans. His ranch is in trouble because the cattle have no water and Evans needs the reward offered by the railroad company.
Forced together by circumstance, the outlaw and the upright citizen find they have more in common than either ever imagined. That's how Russell Crowe, who plays Wade, sees it.
"Right from when Ben's character first confronts Ben Wade and there's a steadiness about Dan," explains Crowe, "I don't think it's something Ben Wade comes across very often. People have an extreme reaction to him because of the reputation that precedes him. So I think that begins a kernel of respect and that's what grows.
"I don't think that Wade actually has a moral compass, necessarily, or a conscience. He couldn't care less. He will do whatever he needs to do right in that moment to make the balance come his way," he adds, "but I think he sees a little bit of his own fight in Dan, so there is a tinge of empathy. However, at any stage if that was threatened there might be a different response."
Fifty years ago in the original film version of 3:10 To Yuma Glenn Ford played the outlaw and Van Heflin was Dan Evans. In the 2007 version Christian Bale co-stars as the upright, but conflicted cowboy and says he turned to that original film for some insight into the character:
"I embrace everything that I can," says Bale. "I don't necessarily take anything from it but if there is a book - and this actually is (based on) a short story by Elmore Leonard - then, of course, I'm going to read that. I'm going to take a look at the other movie and see if there is anything of interest for me in it and then go make it my own after that. I have no problems with seeing other people's interpretations of it. It is not going to limit me, which I think some people fear."
Director James Mangold does not dismiss the label of "remake."
"It wasn't so much about re-doing it as much as I wanted the experience of telling the story and in doing so I thought I'd bring a modern point of view to the story (and) investigate things that were too violent or too delicate to look into in 1957," he says.
But Mangold, whose films include Walk The Line and Girl, Interrupted, also believes that, though set in 1883, this western is full of relevance for today's world.
"What was really important to me was the idea of a western as a kind of 'fever dream' of American anxiety," explains the director. "We've played out our fears of political persecution, religious persecution, our own brutality against native peoples, the brutality of us against ourselves, big business against the small timer ...all of these things are played out are extremely resonant. In relation to today's world, I think we were really trying to explore some political issues of our country right now. There is a lot of interesting stuff that you get to put in a movie, but, in a way, the film is never called 'controversial' because it is not existing in this modern political landscape and these issues are getting played out allegorically."
3:10 To Yuma also features Hollywood veteran (and veteran of many westerns) Peter Fonda as a crusty bounty hunter . Ben Foster plays the homicidal sidekick in Wade's outlaw gang. Gretchen Mol is rancher Dan Evans's wife, trying to make a life for their family on the frontier. The film was shot on location in the mountains and remote canyons of New Mexico.