James Mangold probably won't like me calling his latest film a solid formula movie, but that's what 3:10 to Yuma is. Westerns are a genre that everyone always tries to reinvent, but this is just steeped in the genre's tradition and it delivers.
Movie Review: 3:10 to Yuma
Dan (Christian Bale) is a farmer with debt. Ben (Russell Crowe) is an outlaw gang leader. They cross paths while Dan ventures for retribution against the bankers and Ben is robbing a Pinkerton stage. They don't have any business together until Dan stumbles on Ben's capture. Dan volunteers to escort Ben to prison to earn enough money for his loan. Can they make the 3:10 train to Yuma prison? See, that's where the title comes from.
So you've got good guys and bad guys, but they're likeable, fun bad guys and stodgy, loser good guys. There's plenty of turnabout along the journey, back and forth upper hand getting that propel the film towards a climax.
The action scenes are slightly above average. The stage robbery shows the offensive and defensive plans and includes a kill shot I've never seen in a western before. Gunfights and horse chases happen, either with a visible goal or a strategic objective to follow.
3:10 to Yuma works because of the characters though. These are interesting guys whose lives just happen to intersect. They are tough guys testing each other with dialogue, and everybody seems to have stories to tell, but you really get to know them. The story begins with them already in their world, problems already ongoing, talking about them but not over-explaining.
Between the leads and the supporting characters, the climax involves all sorts of weird alliances and assistances. That makes the town shootout more interesting than just how many squibs can they put on the bad guys.
Any bonds formed between characters are practical, as needed in moments. It's not wishy washy, life altering lessons taught by the trials and tribulations of travel. It's just this works now and tomorrow, we could be totally different.
For a Labor Day movie, 3:10 to Yuma is surprisingly full bodied. It's not just an exploitation film that works, and it's not just a drama with no other weekend available. It's just an overall good movie that unfortunately opens against the greatest gunfight movie of all time, but it is a long weekend so there's time for both.