R for violence and some language.
1 hr. 57 min.
written by: Michael Brandt, Derek Haas & Halsted Welles (screenplay) and Elmore Leonard (short story)
produced by: Kathy Conrad & James Mangold
directed by: James Mangold
This review comes with my own bias seeing as how I grew up watching westerns on TV. I'd watch reruns of The Lone Ranger, The Cisco Kid, Bonanza & The Big Valley. Then I became quite fond of Eastwood feature film westerns and many of the more realistic and gritty takes on the genre. It was probably back then when I fell in love with the Wild West and all it's expansive open country and living-off-the-land lifestyle. Sure, it was a dangerous time to live with seldom a cure for common illnesses and all the six-gun shooting goin' on but I just loved the idea that a man could get his hands dirty, work his land for a living and provide for his family. It seems simple yet hard but certainly not complicated. Maybe that's what I like about most great western genre movies, there's nothing complicated about them. There's usually a journey the protagonist has to take and the obstacles he has to overcome to get where he needs to be.
Director James Mangold's new film is indeed an uncomplicated remake of the same-titled 1957 that starred Glenn Ford. Both of which are based on a short story by Elmore Leonard that was first published in Dime Western Magazine in 1953. It's a typical morality tale similar to what you might find in a old Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents with all the familiar western genre conventions. But there's more going on with the two main characters here and that's what I really appreciated. Sure, there's a taut stagecoach robbery, some dastardly bad guys and sweaty railroad building but seeing these characters develop was a real treat. After all, many westerns have fallen flat in the past due to their heavy lean on convention instead of character.
The story follows Dan Evans (Christian Bale), a troubled farmer and Civil War veteran who has found that the quiet life he wanted for his family is harder to come by than the restitution the government owes him for his war-damaged leg. Dan's got debt and if he doesn't pay up in seven days, Hollander (Lennie Loftin) the local land owner of Bisbee, Arizona will take his land and sell it to the railroad. He needs cash and he needs it fast. Not only does he need the money to save his land but also for medicine for his sick youngest son Mark (Benjamin Petry) Through not so subtle turns, we see that Dan fears he has lost the confidence of both his wife Alice (Gretchen Mol) and teenage son Will (Logan Lerman), who doubt he can make the ranch work. Will, who has practically memorized dime novels about nefarious outlaw Ben Wade, doesn't see in Dan the father he would like to look up to.
After witnessing a stagecoach robbery with his boys while trying to find his missing cattle, Dan finds himself in an unlikely situation that just might pay off all his needs....literally. Turns out Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) and his gang were the cause of that robbery (and his missing cattle) and Wade has now found himself captured and cuffed by bounty hunter Byron McElroy (a great, grizzly Peter Fonda). Wade and his gang have been behind over 20 major robberies on the Southern Pacific Railroad in 19th-century Arizona. Local bank suit Mr. Butterfield (Dallas Roberts) offers Dan two hundred dollars to join a posse that will take captured Wade to the town of Contention and put him on the 3:10 train to Yuma Prison. Dan takes the offer ands takes it seriously, seeing it as a way to not only make ends meet and also finally see something through.
On the hazardous way to the train all sorts of complications happen in requisite western fashion. Pistols are fired, blood is shed, and the traditional thematic elements are all present and well-filmed with a modern, realistic tone. Without Wade, his gang is led by obsessed, right-hand man Charlie Prince (Ben Foster, in a standout performance), are tracking their trail, set on freeing their leader. But Wade doesn't seem to concerned about a rescue as he sits antagonizing his captors or contently drawing on a sketch pad whatever he sees around him. These scenes are well-acted and written with a combination of intense edginess and wry humor. Still, underneath it all, you just know that a guy like Wade, a take whatever he wants kinda guy, is just biding his time, waiting for any opening to break free.
The psychological duel between Dan and Wade on the way to the 3:10 is the most interesting and entertaining thing about this film. Not to discredit the action sequences or other characters like Doc Potter (Alan Tudyk) but it's just kinda rare to see two great actors in a western given such great material to work with. The two start out as rivals and in the end pretty much remain that way yet with mutual respect. There's no blatant team-up (a good thing) but there is an unspoken admiration between the two that it interesting to see develop. The action sequences are good, particularly the frenzied climactic gun battle, but it's nothing original and I was fine with that. The feel of the film was refreshing in that I felt like I was watching a modern classic telling of the Old West.
Mangold is coming off his success of the award-winning "Walk the Line" where he showed a good sense of storytelling and an ability to bring out the best in actors, which is evident here for sure. He must be a fan of westerns to film with such zeal but credit should also be served to the writing team. I haven't seen the original but I'm betting it couldn't compare to this one, at least for my tastes. The two lead actors get to convey their moral tussle through just the right dialogue but mostly through their behavior which tells me that the writers knew when to reign it in and let the actors do their thing. In the end, these men both believe in something, even if the morality of their personal code may be questionable from the other's point of view. They believe in the individual and the rights of a man to take action, whereas everyone else just seems to be worrying about making money and they'll remove whomever is in their way to do that.
Bale is becoming an actor that pretty much always has a film out and ordinarily I'd grow tired of that. not with him though, I continue to be impressed by his range and variety of choices. He manages to keep finding fresh angles to approach conflicted characters. Bale conveys Dan's core in such great subtle ways, he's a man trying to stand up and do what is right, but there shouldn't be so much standing in the way of making an honest living. All of this can often be seen in just an expression and that is great acting. One of his disagreements with Wade manifest as a battle for young William who is fascinated by the dark figure. In the boy's eyes, his father is meek and slow to act, whereas the criminal takes what is his, reacting with the speed of his shooting arm. For his part, Crowe has the more fun albeit harder role. He sheds any outlaw stereotype and exudes a philosophical intelligence and sympathy that runs well with his ruthlessness. Sure, there are those who dislike Crowe but is that really for his acting....really? Crowe makes the smart choice of steering clear of being showy. He has his moments of verbal dexterity, playing mind games on his captors to try to get them to drop their guard, and less careful actors would have gone "maniacal villain"with the role. But Crowe makes Wade subtly charming, he seems to barely lift a finger for the duration of the story, and yet he owns his screen time.
There are quite a few people out there who have aversions to westerns (my wife included) but a good story should be able to translate to any genre and this one does. Am I proven wrong in thinking this seeing as how the movie was number one at the box office in the U.S.opening weekend? I dunno. There aren't that many westerns made anymore, so when one is released it's scrutinized and everyone says how it's a dying genre. Well, I'd rather have a few good or great ones released sparsely then have a slew of hack jobs spewed out on a regular basis like the horror genre. Filmmakers don't need to reinvent the genre, just do a great job and use a great script. As much as it was smart casting to sign Crowe and Bale, it was just as smart of them to agree to do it and you can tell they had fun with it. Excellent work by both of them make this film a worthy entry into an excellent genre.
- Crowe was director Mangold's very first choice for the role of Ben Wade. After Tom Cruise dropped out of talks for the film, putting it into turnaround, it was the casting of Crowe that got the production back up and running.
- Crowe, Mangold, and producer Cathy Konrad unanimously preferred Bale as the co-lead.
- Eric Bana was in initial negotiations to play Dan Evans, opposite Cruise in this film.
- For the film, Crowe and Bale studied the art of gunslinging from renowned armorer Thell Reed.
- On the first day of filming, a rider and his horse were seriously injured in a scene when the horse ran directly into a camera-carrying vehicle instead of veering off as planned. The rider was hospitalized, and the horse had to be euthanized on the set. The animal's death prompted an investigation from the American Humane Association. By November, the AHA concluded its investigation, finding that the horse did not respond accordingly due to having received a dual training approach and the rider not being familiar with the mount. The organization recommended no charges against the producers.
- The weekend before shooting was scheduled to wrap, a freak storm dumped nearly 2 feet of snow on the supposedly drought plagued town. Labourers shoveled the snow from the buildings' balconies and roofs and distributed 89 dump trucks worth of dry soil on the ground. Backhoes created an 8 foot tall rampart of snow just beyond camera sight lines for the remaining 6 days of shooting. You can see the snow on the other side of the Yuma train tracks.
- The movie was funded in conjunction with New Mexico's Film Investment Program.
- Filming began on October 23, 2006 in New Mexico and concluded on January 20, 2007.
- After filming concluded, the owners of the Cerro Pelon Ranch petitioned to keep a $2 million expansion to the movie set on their property, which was supposed to be dismantled within 90 days. The set for the film made up 75% of the overall sets on the ranch. In April 2007, the request was met by the county's development review committee to keep the expansion, which would potentially generate revenue in the future
- The filming took place in a veriety of beautiful locales:
- Bonanza Creek Ranch - 15 Bonanza Creek Lane,Sante Fe, Mexico, which represented the film's town of Bisbee as a "kinder, gentler frontier town" while Galisteo was set up to be Contention (now a ghost town), a "much rougher, bawdier, kind of sin city". After filming concluded, the owners of the Cerro Pelon Ranch petitioned to keep a $2 million expansion to the movie set on their property, which was supposed to be dismantled within 90 days.The set of 3:10 to Yuma made up 75% of the overall sets on the ranch.