Making the Grades
Westerns were once the mainstay of Hollywood coffers, but lately those who have been yearnin' for a "duster" have come up dry at the local movie house. 3:10 to Yuma is one of the first to come along in a while, and what it lacks in originality (it's a remake of a 1957 film) it more than makes up for in quality.
Like the original, this one plays out on the Arizona desert (although it's shot in New Mexico, with incredible scenery painting nearly every frame). The story follows a downtrodden rancher, Dan Evans (Christian Bale), who is being pushed off his land by an ongoing drought, creditors threatening to foreclose on his mortgage and the expanding railroad. But fate deals him a second chance when outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) is captured after robbing a local armored coach. Because the bandit's gang is still at large, Evans' Civil War sharpshooter skills are suddenly in high demand by the very railroad that was seeking to remove him. Offering a reward large enough to pay off his debts, the desperate cowboy agrees to join the small posse of men attempting to escort the thief and murderer to a prison train headed for Yuma, while at the same time trying to dodging a mob willing to kill to get their leader back.
The "road trip" gives these men plenty of time to get to know one another. It quickly becomes apparent that Wade's smooth tongue has been instrumental in allowed the criminal to reach his infamous status. No matter how many times he's told to shut up, his persistent, carefully chosen words are evidence that the mouth is mightier than the pistol. For Evans, the stealthy crook's manipulative techniques are especially distracting.
Although the rancher holds no good feelings toward the railroad, his ethics demand that justice be served even if his conscience is being stretched to the limit by Wade's convincing chatter and attractive bribes. He also badly wants to live up to the heroic expectations of his sons, who have long relished his war stories. However, a growing respect between Evans and Wade is causing both men to wrestle with their roles in this deadly delivery.
Psychological tension runs high during this bullet-fest, and those in attendance will have little reason to let their minds drift. The script offers many moments of insightful dialogue, while strong performances drive home the characters' motivations. However, violence goes well beyond the point necessary for viewers to understand Wade's wickedness. Countless people are shot, many on screen with bloody details. Frequent use of scatological and other profanities, terms of deity and two uses of a sexual expletive will also pose concerns for parents considering this US R-rated title. So will a scene where we see Wade's softer, artistic side, when he sketches a nude barmaid (seen briefly in soft-focus from behind).
The decision to include these content issues is unfortunate, because 3:10 To Yuma could easily have conveyed the same impact in a PG-13 version. Obviously not a choice for children, the mature story effectively portrays the unseen dilemmas raging in the darkest of hearts, as well as the wars of conscience battling within the most ethical of minds.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about 3:10 to Yuma.
Wade shows civilized moments when he quotes Biblical scriptures, sketches, and discusses family life. How does this character development affect our impression of this man?
How does Wade respond when someone else suggests he’s not all bad? Do you agree? Are you ever tempted to underestimate or justify another’s evil tendencies? Or do you think there is room for “good” in even the most deviant of personalities?
How do the conversations between Wade and Evans change their feelings toward each other? While his captors were able to take away his guns, how was Wade’s mouth just as potent?
You can still visit the remains of the Yuma Territorial Prison in Arizona. Check this site: http://www.ghosttowns.com/states/az/yumaterritorialprison.html