3:10 to Yuma (review)

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All Aboard

I haven’t seen the 1957 original upon which this utterly enthralling film is based, but it doesn’t matter. This is inventive and exciting, a grip-the-armrests, hold-your-breath reinvigorating of the Western movie, and either director James Mangold decided to follow up his fantastic Walk the Line by completely rethinking the half-century-old 3:10 to Yuma, or he decided to follow up his fantastic Walk the Line by being slavishly faithful to the ’57 because he saw something still up-to-the-minute in it. Whichever is the case, he’s a genius.
Because Mangold makes you feel like you’ve never seen a Western before. The stagecoach ambush and robbery that opens the movie features some pretty clichéd moments — thundering horses, good guys and bad shootin’ at one another, etc. — but Mangold finds fresh angles on a familiar scene, brings a modern action edge to something you might think couldn’t quite be modernized and still retain its retro deliciousness. But Mangold manages that, too: this new Yuma is gloriously old-fashioned in the best movie way, redolent of its pulpy, junky roots in the pure adventure thrills of dime novels but also heady with consequence. This Yuma knows — and maybe the old one did too; I’ll have to check it out — that there’s plenty of significance to be found in classic characters and simple stories.

Classic character No. 1: Thief, scoundrel, and outlaw philosopher Ben Wade, who is “as rotten as hell,” if we’re to believe his own assessment of himself. More genius points to Mangold for casting Russell Crowe as Wade, because Crowe (Cinderella Man, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World) creates mountains of suspense that make us wonder whether he really is as rotten as hell or just has to pretend to be as part of his job. He is mesmerizing, dominating the screen, if ironically so, with an intimacy that is all the more intense the closer the camera gets in: that’s when, in mere moments, encyclopedias of cunning and style and wry humor and conflicting emotion flicker over his face. It’s what makes Crowe the goddamn sexiest son of a bitch on the screen today. It’s not what he looks like — the closer the camera gets the more you realize that’s he’s actually not very handsome, not in any vapid movie-star way, at least — but what he does. But feel free to take my praise for the film with half a grain of salt if you’re not thoroughly under Crowe’s spell: it’s possibly you won’t find the film as riveting as I did if you aren’t. All I know is, there’s a moment early in the movie when Crowe’s bad-boy man-in-black pushes through a pair of swinging saloon doors, another Western cliché Mangold toys with by not overly emphasizing it, and yet it still feels like the entirety of cinema history has been building to this: holy crap, Russell Crowe as a Western villain. Fuckin’ brilliant.

Still, still… Give me some credit here. I realized, after my first viewing of Yuma, that I’d been so thoroughly bowled over by Crowe that I had probably failed to see the rest of the movie. So I saw it again. And the second time around, when I was less ready to orgasm every time Crowe’s mushy mug — and the talent and intelligence rippling beneath it — appeared, I fell even more in love with the movie. Part of why: Classic character No. 2 is kindhearted, struggling rancher Dan Evans, and he’s played by the gracefully gifted Christian Bale. He’s another one like Crowe, someone who speaks volumes when he’s not even speaking… and like Crowe, he’s someone who’s even better when he’s got a worthy opponent to play against. The opportunity to witness artists on the monumental scale of Bale and Crowe face off is an enormous part of the pure cinematic pleasure of 3:10 to Yuma.

And face off they do. Simple story: Prisoner transport. Wade gets himself captured in remotest Arizona by the local law enforcement, a mishmash of town sheriff and agents for the railroad whose payroll coaches Wade keeps holding up, and now he needs to be gotten to the prison train, the one that leaves for Yuma at 3:10pm from a nearby town. Evans, hard up for cash, volunteers for the detail. It doesn’t go as planned, of course, and Wade and Evans end up acting more as comrades and colleagues than enemies… until they don’t.

Without these two — without the likes of Crowe and Bale — it’s easy to see how the deep and probing questions the film asks in its subtext could either have gotten lost or gotten overplayed to the point of parody. What is loyalty? What’s worth fighting for? What’s worth dying for? What is honor? What makes an honorable man? Is discretion the better part of valor, or is it a coward’s excuse? When is “bravery” mere foolhardiness? By the time Yuma ends up at its — whoa — bloodbath of a finale, none of these questions have been answered, only offered for our consideration. And because we’ve fallen so in love with both Evans and Wade and their compellingly complicated ethics and ideals — which we’ve done because Bale and Crowe made them such compellingly complicated men — we’re still haunted by those unanswered questions long after the movie ends.

Watch 3:10 to Yuma online using LOVEFiLM’s streaming service.

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Fri, Sep 07, 2007 2:25am

So, does Ben Foster come through in his trademark demonic psycho baddie role?

Fri, Sep 07, 2007 9:55am

Yeah, he’s good. The whole cast is excellent.

Tue, Sep 11, 2007 2:44am

And Alan Tudyk, too! Not quite as amazingly good as the others, but he has his own way of being delightfully watchable, too.

Tue, Sep 11, 2007 12:40pm

Tudyk is wonderful here. But I can’t honestly say that the movie would have been very different with another actor in the role. It’s just not that huge a part.

Also, Logan Lerman, who plays Bale’s son, is *amazing.* I can’t believe he’s actually only 14 years old.

Wed, Sep 12, 2007 8:12am

I was kind of crying after seeing the movie, so I read the review… The part “when I was less ready to orgasm every time Crowe’s mushy mug […] appeared” really made me laugh! Some sort of double catharsis. (The subtitle “All Aboard” contributed for it too.)

Wed, Sep 12, 2007 12:13pm

I was crying at the ending too, but I was doing it because I’d never seen a movie that had been 100% perfect fuck up so badly in its final minutes.

Wed, Sep 12, 2007 7:53pm

Why do you think it fucked up, MBI? How should it have ended instead?

Thu, Sep 13, 2007 12:11am

Christian Bale and Russell Crowe were both great, but for me, Ben Foster
totally stole the movie. He had this incredible eerie magnetism and I could simply not look away whenever he was on the screen.

Thu, Sep 13, 2007 4:47pm

God, you mean I have to substantiate my comments? Geez, work, work, work. And spoilers ahead. I will say that at the end of the movie, everyone I saw it with was quite confused about the ending. Like, what the hell? A couple of us felt more sorry for Ben Foster than Christian Bale. I mean, at least Bale knew what he was getting into. Poor crazy henchman.

So, basically, I think it’s ludicrous and Pollyannish that Crowe has a change of heart. And conversely, I think it ridiculously atonal that Bale dies. Why did Bale have to die? I mean, it’s not like he died a hero or a martyr — he only got Crowe on the train with Crowe’s cooperation, Crowe’s going to get right off the train afterward, it’s a meaningless cardboard victory if that. I don’t like either of those plot points separately but especially together they make no sense to me. The whole movie is like Collateral, right, with Russell Crowe/Tom Cruise trying to destroy Jamie Foxx/Christian Bale’s faith in humanity or the mission or whatever. But Bale/Foxx resists temptation to despair. Yet Bale dies, and why? To look good in front of his kid? I guess that’s a victory of some sort, but it’s not worth a life in my opinion. Actually maybe it is, I don’t know. I still like this movie a whole lot.

Gah, my thoughts are all jumbled on this, I’m not sure if I’m coherent. I mean, the kid can see that Crowe was cooperating, he can’t possibly look like that much of a hero. It’s a nihilist ending, it turns out not to matter if Christian Bale succeeds or not. But Crowe slaughtering his men would indicate that it did matter, but it totally didn’t. Plus, Crowe is just too godly in this movie, and the ending suggests that perhaps he is in fact fallible, which I just can’t buy. There was just something just wrong about him screaming “NO!” Is there such a thing as being TOO badass? It might be, for that particular plot development.

Fri, Sep 14, 2007 12:07am

I find the ending fascinating. Yeah, there’s a lot to chew on about it, which I really like. Did Bale die for nothing? Did he decide it was worth dying because it’s worth standing up for what’s right and decent and honorable even to the death (and as an example for his son), or was he a fool for doing so? Of course, he didn’t *know* he was going to die, only that the chance was great. What a character’s motivations are for doing something that might get him killed and what the storyteller’s motivations are for actually killing off a character are not the same thing.

I don’t know if the ending *is* nihilist. It depends, I guess, on how you feel about what’s worth standing up for, and what isn’t.

Fri, Sep 14, 2007 12:11am


it’s a film about redemption. (SPOILERS) both men are failures, Evans because he is too weak and passive and Wade because he is too aggressive and lacks compassion. by the end of the film both men seek to redeem themselves through the symbolic act of catching the train… Evans has found inner strength enough to fight worldly corruption and Wade has found compassion enough to help Evans restore his dignity. Evans brings his family prosperity through the Pinkerton’s money and promise of justice and Wade guns down his irredeemable henchmen… for a brief moment two broken men have become one whole one and the social order is restored.

Evans dies because he dies… maybe a sacrifice was in order. it’s not the filmmaker’s responsibility to make everyone feel like they are leaving the theatre with an armful of warm puppies.

i don’t know if anyone else has noticed but Cormac McCarthy seems to loom large over recent Westerns, specifically The Proposition and Seraphim Falls and maybe this one (i don’t know how closely it follows the original). i suspect more existential Westerns will be in our future as more artists discover McCarthy’s fiction.

Fri, Sep 14, 2007 9:39am

I’m willing to bend on whether or not Bale died a hero or not. I’m a little flustered on it. I find the ending horribly depressing myself — this guy fighting to regain his manhood only to die accomplishing nothing. But I go back and forth on this.

But I am not at all willing to bend on the idea that Ben Wade needed redemption. That’s ridiculous. That’s like saying Eastwood’s Man with No Name, or Jason Voorhees, needs redemption. Ben Wade isn’t even really a character, he’s a force of nature. He doesn’t have human weaknesses, and he sure as hell doesn’t need or want anything like redemption.

Fri, Sep 14, 2007 10:44am

Wade has human weaknesses, otherwise he wouldn’t have asked that bartender/singer to join him in Mexico where he is not wanted by the law and they could live together in pastoral bliss. Wade has eaten at Evans’ table and appreciated his wife and been admired by his sons… Evans’ life is the good life — figuratively if not always literally.

you can argue whether or not it is “redemption” he seeks but by the end of the film he is trying to restore moral order. and if there is no good in him then when the boy says that he’s not all bad, that’s just a throwaway line that the editor could have left on the cutting room floor… and the fact that he tells the boy that he would have to be “rotten as hell” in order to lead those men and then he guns them down, well, that’s just a coincidence.

if you want “force of nature” in a Western check out Cormac McCarthy’s character of Judge Holden in the novel Blood Meridian… he, like Wade, likes to sketch and pontificate but he is a badass of cosmic proportions. Wade is a human being who wants the same things as Evans — they just go about things differently.

Fri, Sep 14, 2007 11:46am

Oh yeah… I forgot about that scene with the hooker. That does give me pause. Need to chew on that.

Even so, that would make it a movie about Crowe and not Bale. Bale’s story is so much more interesting. And I don’t personally think that Bale was fighting for “principle,” not like love or truth or justice or things like that. His fight is more personal; he’s trying to prove that he has the guts to finish the job, to not give into the temptation to give up despite Crowe’s best efforts to show him that the mission is ignoble, futile and unnecessary.

I think maybe they did too good a job making the mission look ignoble, futile and unnecessary. Before he makes the decision to keep on truckin’, he remembers Alan Tudyk and asks, “If we give up now, what did he die for?” Well, what *did* he die for, dammit? That turns Bale (and to a lesser extent Tudyk) into vehicles for Crowe’s redemption, which I don’t think is fair to Bale.

I’ll agree with MaryAnn definitely on one point, this is a fascinating movie. I’m still not sold there on Crowe needing redemption simply because he doesn’t really do anything bad. Lots of badass things, but nothing bad. Crowe’s not really a villain, he lives in a world of moral ambiguity where the people he kills really kind of deserve it. I’m not sure what exactly he feels guilty for. You wouldn’t say Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction needed redemption, even though he underwent his Christian conversion, and that he was apparently right about God telling them to get out of the life.

Sun, Sep 16, 2007 9:45am

this guy fighting to regain his manhood only to die accomplishing nothing.

Oh, but he did accomplish something: He redeemed himself in the eyes of his son. He could have lived another 50 years and never achieved that.

Erik Goodwyn
Erik Goodwyn
Fri, Sep 21, 2007 7:11am

Crow and Bale represent two aspects of the same man–remember when Crow says “I like this side of you” when Bale loses his temper with him. Crow represents the ‘dark side’ of Bale, or of the everyman. That’s what is so awesome about this movie, is how unflinching it is in representing this timeless conflict.

Bale, in turn also represents the ‘good side’ of Crow. At the end, the two sides have been reconciled–what happens afterward is the redemption of Crow. The point, IMO, is that Crow, through Bale, is finally able to rid himself of the gang, which was keeping him from being a better man. True, he may still escape, but then what will he do with himself? Perhaps he may achieve something great. He never would have done that without Bale’s death. Nothing less than that would have made him gun down his own men.

Is that worth dying for? Well, let’s see: Bale’s character is a good and just man, wards off all temptations (three in fact–that should provide a clue), and dies at the end to help rectify the sins of another man. Sound familiar? Yeah.

Sat, Sep 22, 2007 2:34pm

Is it weird to feel sorry for Charlie Prince more than Evans?

I mean come on! The loyalty and love Charlie showed to save his idol and the amount of times he willingly faced death just to see him again was admirable to me in a dark way. Sure he was a animal, but he had a code that was very simple and heartfelt.
Did he know that Wade was an expert in escaping Yuma prison? I don’t think Wade told him, and Charlie smiling and believing he’s earned even more approval from Wade only to be so stunningly betrayed is the part of the movie that affected me the most.
You can see the crushing pain in Charlie’s eyes right before he dies. Great job by Ben Foster.
Charlie Prince made the movie for me. I guess i have a thing for great villians.

And yes, that railroad guy was watching the train so Wade decided to get on so Evan’s family would be taken care of due to the promise made in the Hotel room. And he knew Evan’s kid would see his death as foolish and dispise him more if he didn’t get on the train.

But i have trouble understanding Wade’s betrayal of Charlie.
Wade whistling for his horse is very important ’cause it means Wade didn’t do a complete 180 character reversal and wasn’t willing to justly pay for his crimes.
If that’s so, then why not simply tell Charlie he’d escape and see him again instead of killing him for Evans death. Wade said it himself, Charlie’s an animal, so why be so angered by his actions that were done purely out of love and for the benefit for Wade?

Sat, Sep 22, 2007 8:42pm

The ending works a lot better if you look at it from a rather less conventional perspective – that Wade fell into whatever it is that a sociopath would experience as love with Dan. I know that sounds like a joke, but its not. (SPOOOILERS incomin!) I can’t think of any other way to explain Wades actions in the last ten minutes without resorting to the sort of trite Hollywood crap that makes my blood boil. I much prefer thinking of his murder of his gang – and the VERY explicit and deliberate heart shot to Charlie – as the actions of a suddenly grief-stricken and heartbroken man than of those of a guy who’s trying for redemption ’cause it’s In The Script. (There have been some interesting points made here, but I just have no patience for that sort of thing. Wade is such a convincingly authentic sociopath to me – google Antisocial Personality Disorder, he’s textbook – that the idea that he could be redeemed, or even want to be, is hilarious at best and insulting at worst.)

And hey, he’s not too heartbroken to be thinking ahead to his inevitable breakout. Heh.

Sat, Sep 22, 2007 11:27pm

i think the word “redemption” works, not because of any cloud-parting, sun-shining Hollywood catharsis, but because both men are in search of an idea or a feeling that is just out of their grasp. and that feeling is one of eudaemonia or the well-being of the soul… the good life.

Wade isn’t in love with Evans… he recognizes him as a kindred spirit. they are each the other’s shadow and live on opposite sides of the social injustice that rules the world.

the only unjustified killing Wade does in the movie is at the beginning when he kills one of them men that rides with him for being weak — but even that guy was a criminal. the guy he killed with the fork had terrorized the Evans family, and the Pinkerton he threw of a cliff (Fonda) was himself a killer of women and children.

and whatever the sudden motivation to kill his gang was, it is still a redemptive act. he doesn’t have to be “rotten as hell” anymore.

one can interpret the movie in a behaviorist mode, i guess, but i doubt that’s the way in which it was written or performed.