'3:10 to Yuma' a real Hollywood western

Thursday, September 13, 2007

"3:10 to Yuma" is made in the classic Hollywood tradition that can only be called "A Major Motion Picture." It has big stars, big themes, big sets out in the wild west; it has stay-and-fight Apaches, saloons, gunfights, ladies of the night; it has corrupt bankers and landlords, salt-of-the-earth ranching families, rough and tumble rail men, tough-as-nails Pinkerton guards, Chinese immigrants ... and the meanest gang since, well, I don't know when.

Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) and his gang of outlaws have robbed more than 22 stagecoaches carrying payroll and the powers-that-be have had enough, but even the new Pinkerton guards are no match against the ruthless gang. In a scene that rivals any modern car chase, Wade and his men bring down their 23rd stagecoach and add another notch to their belts.

To celebrate their success, they head to town and into the nearest saloon. When it's time for the gang to head for their hide-out in Mexico, Wade, a sucker for a beautiful gal, stays behind just a little to long and is captured.

Meanwhile, rancher Dan Evans (Christian Bale), an honest family man and wounded Civil War veteran, is about to lose his farm to the bank. He's got six days to come up with his loan and rides into town to make a final plea for his family.

With Ben Wade captured, and only one wounded Pinkerton left to transport Wade to meet the 3:10 train to Yuma, Dan Evans offers his services as a guard for $200 -- enough money to save his family. The party sets off with less than 24 hours to meet the train. They'll have to deal with Apaches, Wade's gang, railroad roughnecks and a whole spate of problems that is the good old Hollywood western at its best. Whether they get Wade on the 3:10 to Yuma is something you should experience for yourself.

The grand vistas of the New Mexico sets are truly wonderful to see. Often films will get a few establishing shots and move to the soundstage, but with "3:10 to Yuma," it's clear they spent many days out on the rugged landscape. It gives the film a naturalistic and gritty feel that matches the look and feel of "Unforgiven" and "Open Range."

What keeps this film from achieving that higher status is its Big Studio feel. You are often reminded that it is a film, either by the sly remark or obvious set ups; and though Ben Wade is a bad man, there is still that movie star twinkle in his eye. Which in the scheme of things isn't much to complain about.

Though it's not as good as the above films, Christian Bale, Russell Crowe and Ben Foster (as the evil Charlie Prince) raise the film to a level that puts it in the upper ranks of the Hollywood western. The performances, the sets, the story (from Elmore Leonard, by the way) is pretty close to as good as it gets.

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