Action-packed and endearing, James Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma (2007) is a true achievement that respects the legacy of its predecessor.
James Mangold made a name for himself by being open to a variety of genres. He’s explored rom-coms with Kate & Leopold, then played within the biopic realm in Ford v Ferrari, Walk the Line,and Girl, Interrupted. One’s a sports drama, the other follows an icon of country music, and the third is a mental health biography. Both The Wolverine and Logan belong to the world of comic-books, though one takes inspiration from samurai films while the other draws from old westerns. Mangold is a giant talent who’s constantly evolving, and his remake of the 1957 classic western 3:10 to Yuma might be his least appreciated, yet most impressive work.
When failing to provide for his family, rancher Dan Evans (Christian Bale, The Pale Blue Eye) and his children William (Logan Lerman, Hunters) and Mark (Benjamin Petry, Breaking Bad) stumble across a crime led by famed outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe, The Pope’s Exorcist). Ben is eventually captured for breaking the law and, in an attempt to make easy money, Dan volunteers to escort the outlaw to the 3:10 to Yuma train. The job proves to be a dangerous hustle as Wade presents himself as a threat to his captors and his gang looms over trying to free him.
What makes James Mangold’s body of work consistently good is that despite exploring several outlandish genres, he always ensures his stories and characters remain as grounded and relatable as humanly possible. Dan Evans’ journey isn’t one of a man who wants to play the hero, it’s one of a man who has to prove to his family –more specifically his son William – that he isn’t a total failure. You don’t have to be a farmer yourself to sympathize with his motivations, they’re clear and help you instantly root for him.
Christian Bale borrows the humanity that Van Helfin brought to the role in the 1957 version of 3:10 to Yuma, but there’s something about his performance that is especially vulnerable. It isn’t simply due to this iteration of the character having a missing limb, making it harder for him to move around. But Dan seems particularly tired here, almost as if he has this weight he’s been carrying his whole life. His relationship with William certainly sells this idea, as he’s taking this as his last chance to make his son proud, even if it kills him in the process.
This pivotal dynamic is missing in the original film. Dan’s wife Alice, played by Leora Dana, takes Logan Lerman’s place as his main motivation. It is simple to see just how much husband and wife love each other. It gets the job done and works for what that movie is aiming for. In Mangold’s remake, Alice (Gretchen Mol, Perry Mason) takes a backseat, traded for what’s a much better relationship between father and son. It also helps that William does have an actual role to play and challenges Dan, rather than occasionally having Alice appear in the original to remind audiences what our protagonist is fighting for.
Russell Crowe is a key component to making James Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma work. Glenn Ford’s (Superman) Ben Wade is more charming than he is intimidating. He perfectly nails the tone of the classic western and balances the task of wanting to root for Ben to get away, but also to be apprehended. It’s a great overall performance. On the other hand, though, Crowe takes what Ford did and adds to it. He’s charming, he is way more menacing here, but there’s a subtle sadness to Crowe’s Wade. A yearning to be a better man and live a better life. This is present in Ford’s iteration too, but Crowe simply excels at being able to go big and small within seconds.
As a result, both Bale and Crowe deliver a complicated duo that constantly crashes with each other due to the difference of lifestyles. Ben will one minute mock Dan for not being a strong enough man and will sweet talk his wife, but then he’ll show sympathy for him and try to help Dan reach his goal, even if it costs Wade his freedom. There’s an unspoken respect between the two men that is gripping to see unfold from scene to scene.
Although Ben Wade serves as Dan Evans’ direct antagonist, Charlie Prince (Ben Foster, Emancipation) – Wade’s right hand – is a villain worth highlighting. Foster is phenomenal at portraying complicated individuals, especially when he goes over the top with his performance. Richard Jaeckel in the 1957 film is fine, but he doesn’t get much to chew on. With Mangold, Foster is freed to run wild and deliver a memorable character that presents a real threat to Dan’s journey. If Wade mostly challenges Dan on a psychological level, Prince is the physical danger he encounters. Foster and Crowe’s final moments on screen together are incredibly tense.
Mangold is particularly great with set pieces and giving them a sense of urgency. His 3:10 to Yuma is constantly moving at a fast pace due to our characters running out of time. So, anytime he treats us to an action sequence the stakes are sky-high and feel like something significant is happening because characters are actually challenged and are at a disadvantage. The final shootout scene is not only thrilling, but emotional. You feel the threat Prince poses and the weight of Wade and Dan’s choices. They make decisions and they’re faced with dire consequences, which results in a much darker conclusion than that of the original.
Cinematographer Phedon Papamichael has collaborated with James Mangold on numerous projects – upcoming Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny being one of them – and his photography in 3:10 to Yuma shines. You’ll get your wide shots of the grand desert you typically see in westerns, but then he’ll find ways to make the scenery claustrophobic. The third act is a good example of this, as Papamichael makes the environment our characters must use to take cover feel insufficient and unsafe.
Whether you prefer one version of 3:10 to Yuma over the other, James Mangold’s is everything you could hope from a western. Emotional, action-packed, endearing, his vision for this story is a true achievement that respects the legacy of its predecessor. Bale and Crowe shine with a supporting cast that help carry the film’s themes and high-stakes suspense.
3:10 To Yuma is now available to watch on digital and on demand.