Westerns were once the throwaway genres of Hollywood. Although there have always been big, star studded Westerns, most of the time a western was something churned out over six days and dumped into a theater as part of a larger program. Now when Hollywood makes a western, they seem to be congratulating themselves—they want to let you know that they love John Ford and Budd Boetticher films. They want to tell you deep thoughts about America, men, heroism, and the mystique of the Old West. Man vs. nature, good vs. evil, it’s all there. Westerns now are Very Important Pictures.
3:10 to Yuma, a 1957 movie starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin, was remade in 2007, with Russell Crowe in the Ford role and Christian Bale taking over for Van Heflin (and a good thing, too—I like Glenn Ford, particularly when he played a somewhat bad or seedy guy, but just never liked Van Heflin). I haven’t seen the original, but judging by how the new version is about a half hour longer than the first one, I’d guess that the 2007 version is basically the same but with more talk, more elaborate gunfights, and more overall pondering about morality.
The story’s simple enough: Dan Evans (Bale) is a Civil War vet and farmer struggling to make a living for his wife and two kids (one with TB) on a dry, barren patch of land. He’s in debt and about to lose his farm; he’s already lost the respect of his oldest son, who thinks he’s weak and helpless. When the chance comes along to earn $200 for helping to escort a notorious criminal, Ben Wade (Crowe) to the town of Contention, where he will board a prison train to Yuma, Evans jumps at the chance. His kid tags along, and as the others in the group are killed off or back down, Evans sticks with his task, eventually earning the respect of Wade and his son, but dies at the hands of Wade’s gang, who arrive to rescue him. Wade shoots them, though, and boards the prison train anyway, to honor Evans.
This movie is fine. It’s entertaining enough. The performances are good. The direction is workmanlike and solid. The soundtrack is okay, probably could have been better. I don’t really have a lot else to say other than that. It could easily have been bad, but it’s good enough. I enjoyed watching it, particularly the actors, but don’t feel like it’s made me rethink the western. And maybe that’s where the latter-day western makers are wrong—maybe these films are just good enough the way they are and to try to make them something more isn’t an homage or reinvention, but rather a destruction of what once and always works.