Westerns rule. They’re one of the best and easiest types of movies to make. They’ve got the best villains available. They’ve got heroes everyone can relate to and cheer for. Usually, they’ve got beautiful, strong willed women whose support and love aid the family unit in its time of need. And of course, Westerns have great gun fights. So why, the need to remake 3:10 to Yuma, when an original script can be drummed up so easily?
Since you’re here, I’ll tell you — Hollywood is bankrupt! It makes perfect sense to dust off the archives and spruce up an existing story with fresh actors. The quick turnaround means more profits for the studios. I usually fancy finding fault with remakes, and my reasoning is generally dead-on. The problem here is that the formula actually works. 3:10 to Yuma, while having a few quirks, is a surprisingly good movie.
Russell Crowe takes on the role of the murderous badass, Ben Wade. He leads a group of ruthless robbers and cutthroats who take joy in plundering the coffers of the Southern Pacific Railroad while terrorizing residents of local municipalities. His luck turns for the worse when he is captured with his pants down by local officials. The U.S. Marshals’ task is to now get him on a train to Yuma to face the hangman’s noose. This is no easy task, as Wade calmly lets them know his gang will soon be looking to free him and kill those who would imprison him. Enter Christian Bale. He plays Dan Evans, a hobbled family man and rancher, who finds himself deep in debt. For $200 he’s willing to babysit Wade and ensure he boards the train. This, of course, is where the fun begins. There are run-ins with rogue Indians. There are altercations with pissed-off railroad workers. There are fights amongst themselves. And in the end it’s all capped off with an explosive finale.
However, for a Western to work, the correct characters must be written and have the correct actors cast in the roles. The hero must be someone the audience can and will connect with. The anti-hero must be vilified and someone people will love to hate (or vice versa). For the hero, he must exhibit humble qualities and have an over-achieving drive to do the right thing. Dan Evans has those traits and he’ll see it through to the finish — even if that means putting himself into harms way. Christian Bale, in all his seriousness, throws himself into the role and clearly captures Dan’s complexities and nuances. On the other end of the spectrum, who better is there to play a brazen outlaw than Russell Crowe, who in real life is a cocky asshole. His dry sense of humor and pompousness relate perfectly to the portrayal of Ben Wade. He’s so convincing at it, that at times I actually found myself rooting for this guy.
Gluing it all together, along with the gunfights, are the mind games both men play on one another. Wade tries overtly to recruit those that would hang him when his scare tactics don’t waver them. This is done by acting tough and unfazed even though inside he is truly a caring man. Evans uses his war injury and his personal fears to pull on the heart strings of the railroad representatives and Wade. He wants everyone to think his sacrifice is all for providing to his family, when in reality his choices are made for much more cynical reasons. This all leads to some very interesting and cathartic moments.
While 3:10 to Yuma is no Unforgiven or High Noon, it does possess small snippets of each. Add in strong performances by the lead actors and an enjoyable movie is born. This is by no means a glowing endorsement of remakes though. Hollywood still needs to get and stay original. The studios also need to release more Westerns — you can never have enough Westerns.