3:10 to Yuma has everything you might want from a western apart from anything original or interesting, and as for Russell Crowe, he’s actually pretty crap. Obviously, I can’t say what the director, James Mangold (Walk the Line), who apparently fought hard to make this project, was thinking of. What shopping to get in on his way home? Do we need milk? Cat food?
But the result is both dull and deeply unnecessary; a stinker. This is a remake of the 1957 film of the same name (starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin) and while life is too short to get all het up about remakes — there is nothing holy about old films; it’s not like drawing a moustache on the ‘Mona Lisa’ — what is the point, if you can’t re-frame it in some new way for a fresh audience? Hairspray, for example, did that quite wonderfully. But here the script is so out-dated and passé there’s barely a line that doesn’t go not just to the brink of cliché, but also well over it and on to the next brink. I’ve rarely witnessed so many clichés tumbling over brinks. It’s not Apaches you have to watch out for here, it’s phrases so well worn they almost have holes in the knees. One character even says, after being shot and getting up again, because this was a time when men were men, ‘I rode into this town, so I will ride out of it again.’ OK. Suit yourself. No need to make a big thing about it.
Adapted from a short story by Elmore Leonard, this is about Dan Evans (Christian Bale), a desperate, crippled rancher who accepts $200 to help escort notorious outlaw Ben Wade (Crowe) to the town of Contention where the 3.10 train will take him on to Yuma prison. The journey does, indeed, have everything you might desire from a western: shoot-outs; Apaches; ambushes; campfires; arid landscapes; a hellhole of a mining camp; posses and even a baddie in a black hat. But what it lacks — so sorely, and so crucially — is any kind of tension. It’s like: ‘Oh look, they’re all shooting at each other again. I wonder who will win this time.’ It’s not like you are ever that bothered. It’s not like you’re not thinking if you need to get shopping in on the way home. Do we need milk? Cat food?
As far as character studies go — as far as the journey of the self goes, which I wouldn’t mention except that the film so obviously thinks it is about this journey too — this is a deeply flawed project. The conflict is meant to stem from each man’s envy of what the other has. Evans is poor with a ranch he’s about to lose, a wife who is fed up, one son with TB and another who has started to treat his father with contempt. Wade? Wade is all easy, carefree charm with such a twinkle in his eye he can seduce a saloon girl with just the one glance. But he has never had a family; not even as a child. Eventually, their mutual hostility transmutes into mutual respect, which would be fair enough, if only you could understand why.
The fact is, Evans is so dour he’s a drag and a bore. If you were married to Evans, you’d be fed up with him, and rightly so. Meanwhile, Wade is meant to be a ruthless killer who is also charming and appealing and charismatic. To bring these last traits home, he is scripted to quip even at the most perilous moments, which is just silly. OK, Butch and Sundance quipped at the most perilous moments but that was cool because, if you recall, they never killed anybody. Plus, Newman and Redford seemed entirely at ease, whereas Crowe does not. Crowe can be a great actor but his thing is sad, troubled and stubbled. He just can’t do light and airy, as anyone who saw A Good Year in Provence — and is still squirming with embarrassment — will surely tell you.
Anyway, I could go on, and you know what? I will. Attention to authenticity is scant. Characters who are brutally clobbered in one scene barely have a scratch in the next. A shot to the stomach is but a graze: ‘I rode into this town, so I will ride out of it.’ The last 15 minutes is a Peckinpah Lite bullet-fest so ludicrous and logic defying that Evans appears miraculously to lose his limp. As for the final scene…bafflingly absurd. Do catch the 3:10 to Yuma if you so fancy, but you won’t miss a lot if you don’t.