3:10 to YumaWesterns are a rare breed these days. Gone are the days of the 50s B movie where good and bad are clearly defined and where smart talking hunks sit in saloons or ride around on beautifully manicured horses. Make no mistake, the westerns of today, when made, either take a more understanding and contemplative viewpoint (Dances With Wolves) or else tell dark, gritty and graphically violent tales (Unforgiven). “3:10 to Yuma” fits roughly into the second category, though not completely eschewing mature themes.

Interestingly, James Mangold’s film builds on a concept that would be very much at home with matinee entertainment, reluctant hero Dan Evans (Christian Bale) forced to protect the villain outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe), but twists and melds this into a gruelling, unforgiving, yet ultimately very human journey for both characters and their support as well. Evans is up to his eyes in debt for example, his water supply has been cut off and angry creditors burn down his barn. Only at the promise of $200 dollars reward for taking Wade to the titular train and so to trial does he take up the mission. This sets up fascinating relationships between him, his wife (Gretchen Mol) and particularly his elder son, who feels it his duty to follow and assist his father and prove himself.

However, the plot’s main focus is on the relationship between Evans and Wade, and plaudits must go to Crowe and Bale, both are superb. While Crowe lays on the charm, a continuously scheming and necessarily violent outlaw, Bale’s performance is one of restraint, his character very much a broken man (a U.S. Civil War vet as we come to understand) given one last chance and determined to take it. Naturally it all ends in quite a lot of bloodshed, but something about this man manages to crack between the outlaw’s toughened skin. The supporting cast are excellent also, Peter Fonda and Alan Tudyk deserve a mention and Crowe’s ruthless gang are truly frightening, especially front-man Dallas Roberts. And the movie’s great discovery may just be Logan Lerman who gives a very mature performance as Evans’ fourteen year-old son.

It is clear that Mangold (who previously directed a certain Johnny Cash biopic “Walk the Line”) is in the driving seat, whether directing intimate character moments or large scale action sequences. Of these there are many, the ambush on the carriage near the film’s opening is thrilling! However one sometimes gets the feeling that it’s brutality for brutality’s sake – in particular the climatic shoot-out (what else?) is a bit too much, when the focus is clearly what is going on between Bale, Crowe and Lerman. I won’t spoil it for you but let’s just say Crowe pulls his trigger a few time too many and is realy a quite unintelligent way of doing away with a plot obstacle. That aside though, it’s all very stylish and the cinematography is quite simply exquisite. The landscape shots don’t need to be showcased, their awesomeness is just there, yet they, just like the storyline are unforgiving. One recurring image is that of an extremely bright sun, beating down on the characters, time after time.

3:10 to Yuma OSTMarco Beltrami who scored the film is one of those composers that has become stuck in an endless loop of cheap horror films when in fact his talent would reach into many more genres. This is one of those genres! The music he delivers for the film is perfect, an emulation of Morricone spaghetti western but with his own flair. Harsh guitars, both acoustic and electric playing rhythms with percussion, and those trumpet solos are just gorgeous. This is by far the best Beltrami score I have heard.

Overall “3:10 to Yuma” is a very entertaining film, thankfully one that is made for an adult audience unlike so many of other recent action films which treat you like a ten year-old. It’s also nice to see westerns making a small bit of a return. Of course it’s not really comparable to the great Leone or anything like that but it fulfils its purpose remarkably well. It’s just a shame that some people seem to rate a film along the lines of how violent it is.

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