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3:10 TO YUMA – A battle of conscience

Starring: Christian Bale, Russell Crowe, Peter Fonda and Ben Foster
Director: James Mangold
Rated: MA

THIS is a very fine western, especially at a time when the studios do not make many westerns at all.

Many will have seen the original film, made 50 years earlier, with Glenn Ford and Van Heflin. It was based on a short story by crime writer Elmore Leonard, and has elements of the crime thriller as well as the western.

This version has amplified aspects of the plot and some of the characters.

The two stars, Christian Bale and Russell Crowe, are excellent.

Crowe, as the ruthless gunfighter, seems natural in his role. But Bale, who has shown such versatility in recent films like Batman Begins and Harsh Times, stands out as the rancher who is coming to the end of his tether.

The crime background of the film is fairly straightforward. Ben Wade (Crowe) and his gang have robbed stagecoaches 21 times.

Despite a Pinkerton agent and a gatling gun, Wade ambushes a 22nd.

Dan Evans (Bale) and his two sons come upon the robbery and their horses are taken for an escape.

Later, Evans is instrumental in the arrest of Wade.

The challenge is to evade his gang and a rescue as they travel to the rail head through the desert and mountains so that Wade can be put on the 3:10 to Yuma train for prison.

Dan Evans is an upright man, a Massachusetts guard who lost his leg during the Civil War and the defence of Washington.

He owes money, and a greedy creditor who sees the coming railroad making land more valuable wants to get rid of Evans and his family.

The film opens with the burning of their barn.

One of the amplifications from the original which makes this film very interesting is the character of the older son William, a 14-year-old boy who despises his father as weak and submissive and who is attracted by the often suave manner of Ben Wade.

The boy is instrumental in the journey to the rail head and has to re-evaluate his father.

Evans is a man of principle. Van Heflin stood out 50 years ago as the embodiment of a good man, a decent man.

In fact, the word “decent” is often used in this version, as well as conscience. Bale brings a seriousness and commitment to this man of decency.

This means that the film, which does have action, quite violent, especially the desperate climactic shoot-out as Evans tries to get Wade from the hotel to the station under fire from the gang and the townspeople, is more of a psychological western, a battle of conscience and wits between the two men.

And the film does not opt for easy answers, leaving the audience pondering the moral dilemmas they have seen and their consequences.

The Arizona scenery is impressively photographed, especially during the trek.

The fine supporting cast includes Peter Fonda as the Pinkerton agent and Ben Foster, really sinister, even creepy, as Wade’s second in command.

3:10 to Yuma is a cinema parable about conscience and moral choices.

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