Take the Last Train to Yuma

I’ll be waiting at the station.
We’ll have time for coffee flavored kisses
And a bit of conversation.
-The Monkees?

Mmmmm, Russell. Uhm…yeah, got to see 3:10 on Saturday. Yes, it was great. No, it wasn’t quite as amazing as I’d hoped. But still, it was really danged good. Best western since Open Range. You (yes, YOU) need to see it.

[Quick plot recap if you don't know: Desperate, dirt-poor, crippled farmer Dan Evans (Christian Bale) volunteers for the suicide mission of escorting captive sexxay outlaw Ben Wade (Russell) to catch the 3:10 train to Yuma Prison because he needs the reward money to save his farm. Dan's gotta get Ben to the train on time while avoiding Ben's psycho band of cut-throat bandits, who are trying to rescue their Fearless Leader. In between is a morality play about duty, respect, redemption, envy, and temptation.]

This new version is not as taut and lean as the original. In the 1957 version, almost all the dialog is between Evans (Van Heflin) and Wade (Glenn Ford). There’s little-to-no action, but a LOT of psychological tension. It’s practically a two-man piece that would work in many other settings besides the Old West. Gripping stuff and two fabulous performances by the leads.

Fast-forward fifty years. Director James Mangold’s remake of 3:10 to Yuma has added more characters, (lots) more action, (lots) more violence, and an extra half-hour of running time. These additions are not unwelcome, but they are a tad unnecessary. The extra action is good, and executed very well. It makes this 3:10 that rare combination: an entertaining action flick with a brain. Some of the extra “incidents” thrown in on the journey to the train station do feel like padding, however.

About midway through, I got concerned that the expanded cast of characters was going to weaken the drama of the movie by taking away from the pivotal relationship between Bale and Crowe’s two leads. But by the film’s climactic final scenes, when I found my heart was in my throat and I was holding my breath, I realized that nothing had been lost.

The tension was still there, built by the always fine acting of Russ and Chris (I’ll bet Christian Bale hates to be called Chris…ah well.) Bale does the steely-eyed determination thing so well. Almost too well. The desperation he brings to his character is so sharp and flinty, you don’t sympathize with him so much as worry that the guy is about to snap. Russell actually underplays his part a bit. As the charismatic badman, I expected more swagger (which woulda been tres hot), but he reins it in. He really does most of his work with his eyes, which is very appropriate. Ben Wade is a careful observer of people and situations. This remake emphasizes that further by making him an artist, constantly sketching the people he sees. As Russell-as-Wade’s eyes coolly flick up and down a person, you can actually SEE him sizing them up, thinking about how to use or manipulate them. Then he sets about his manipulation with great skill and charm…it’s almost like Saruman in LOTR …everyone in 3:10 to Yuma is cautioned not to speak to Ben Wade, because once he starts his seductive sales pitch, few can resist. Damn that Russ; such an ass in real life, but SUCH a great actor you just can’t begrudge him for it.

The sets and costumes are great, everything looks realistically shoddy and dirt-encrusted. James Mangold’s direction is pretty unimaginative, but it gets the job done. (Aside: what is with directors these days and the overuse of closeups?! Pan BACK, dammit, give us some freaking CONTEXT!) I will give Mangold credit for two things: 1. He obviously has a great respect and affection for the original and 2. He made his remake a pure, no excuses Western. It’s not modernized, or revisionist, or deconstructed, or post-modern, or ironic. It is a TRADITIONAL, gun-totin’, straight-up WESTERN and doesn’t apologize for it.

3:10 to Yuma has something for everybody. You can watch it just as pure Western fun. You can watch it as a delicate, finely-acted character study. You can watch it as an action movie where a buncha people get shot. Or all of the above.

(Obligatory shallow comments follow: You can also watch it as eye-candy. I thought Russell was The Hotness in this movie!! OMG, *squee!* He had really great hair, and his old west duds really worked for him. I felt cheated…CHEATED…because they did not modernize the scene where Wade seduces a barmaid. No sex scene! Mangold, you robbed me!! For those of you and –I know there are many– who think C. Bale is Hotness Incarnate, your boy spends most of the movie very grimy, bloody, and sweaty. But perhaps you like that. :) No nekkkidness on the Bale front either, sorry.)

One Response to “Take the Last Train to Yuma”

  1. LOUP Says:

    I think I am going to get to see this one once we get into town. i have wanted to see it since I first heard about it. I am such a sucker for westerns and your nod to Open Range just makes it more appealing.

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