‘3:10 to Yuma’ (2007): Outlaws, Heroes, and the Trains that Bear Them (Review)

3:10 to Yuma is, at the end of the day, one of the movies that I think every young man should be forced to watch. It’s not really that hard of a sell, especially if you catch them at the age when the Western rediscovers its boyhood luster, but in the event that someone pushes hard against you, watching should prevail. It’s not a historical film, nor is it particularly famous, but what it offers is an important lesson gift wrapped in fantastic action and surprisingly high quality acting. At the end of the day, 3:10 to Yuma is a resonant film, urging us to ponder the idea and value of heroism.

The story revolves around rancher Dan Evans – played well by Christian Bale – and the outlaw Ben Wade, also played well by Russell Crowe. There are other characters that come and go, but aside from a criminally underrated performance by Ben Foster as Charlie Prince and a memorable turn as Doc Potter by Alan Tudyk, they are sort of inconsequential. This isn’t a bad thing, per se, as much as an observation. The idea is simple enough – get the bad guy (Ben Wade) onto a train so he can be taken to Yuma prison and hung for his transgressions. Obviously, complications arise, and the result is a romp of a good time that unfolds against the blustery desert background.

A word about the cinematography. Filmed predominantly in Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, 3:10 to Yuma is a gorgeous film. The Western genre in particular uses landscape to great effect, and 3:10 follows this tradition marvelously. Though the landscape doesn’t become quite the “character” that it does in other Westerns – as it does for example, in No Country for Old Men – it’s still a great backdrop for the human character drama to unfold. As I’ve already mentioned, the characters other than Dan Evans and Ben Wade are a little shallow, but not so shallow that it’s distracting. I don’t get the sense while watching that they were supposed to carry the story. Charlie Prince, Ben Wade’s loyal (and psychotic) man-dog is particularly well crafted. I don’t know what happened to Ben Foster – he didn’t break out with Pandorum (a flawed but underrated film) and it’s like ever since then the world turned the other way. It’s really too bad, because he’s a joy to watch here.

I think maybe the reason 3:10 to Yuma is so refreshing – and why I feel it should be required viewing for all young men – is because it is, ultimately, a meditation on male heroism and what makes a man a hero. Dan Evans is a man we like, and come to love over the course of the film. He’s constantly being overshadowed by the enigmatic and fascinating Ben Wade, overshadowed in the eyes of his son William (played by Logan Lerman) by a dime novel outlaw, and overshadowed in the green eyes of his wife, Alice. It’s easy to hate Ben Wade on Dan’s behalf, but it’s also easy to fall in love with Ben Wade ourselves. We want to believe in him, best acknowledged by a scene wherein William pleads with Wade, saying “You’re not all bad.” “Yes, I am,” Ben Wade replies. Yes, he is. But he’s our bad guy. What I enjoyed most, I think, was the film’s willingness to paint both the Outlaw and the Hero in mythic sepia tones – by the time 3:10 rolls around, we’re not sure exactly who we’re supposed to be rooting for or against, and that’s a very good thing.

The film suggests a simple philosophy when it comes to heroism, summed up best in a memorable line of dialogue by Dan Evans himself, who tells his son, one hand on his shoulder, “You just remember that your old man walked Ben Wade to that station when nobody else would.” And that’s that. That’s the discourse, the revelation, the discussion on the as-of-late-slippery idea of heroism. Heroism, the film suggests, isn’t a slippery idea at all. It’s just doing the right thing, especially when nobody else will. It sounds stupid, really, or infantile. It sounds like something we tell our kids on the first day of the second grade. The problem, though, is that we as adults rarely hold ourselves to the very same standards.  We forget about them somewhere along the line, or we talk ourselves out of them, or we make up excuses about why they don’t apply in situations A, B or C. Our childhood standards end up abandoned, and what we’re left with is a train of regrets that might have been easily avoided.

What I admire most about a film like 3:10 to Yuma is that it endorses a powerful message without ever feeling preachy. I don’t have a problem with preachy things – expounding on one’s thoughts concerning morality can be a good thing, provided you do your best to reign in the condescension (Terrence Malick can be guilty of rampant condescension, at times). Still, though, I don’t think enough films make moral points anymore – we’ve abandoned them in lieu of the grittier, grayer films, films that ask more questions than offer answers.  I love a good gray movie – I like movies that make you ask questions, but I don’t think there are enough films coming out that offer guidance. I think maybe that’s because answers are so hard to come by, and when we do find them, they’re either incredibly disappointing or become the source of enormous controversy. Either way, there’s a lack of accountability that’s become a cultural norm, and 3:10 to Yuma is a film that’s all about the merits of holding oneself – and indeed, others – accountable for their actions, if only because it’s the right thing to do.

A word about my opening. I said that 3:10 to Yuma is a film that every young man should be required to watch, and I stand by that. I encourage young women to watch it, as well, but for different reasons. Young men should be given cultural icons like Dan Evans to emulate, and young women could have them as a caricature of the kind of man that they deserve. Too often, I think, our youth is presented with impossible idols, which can either lead to romantic disappointment  for our girls (Edward Cullen, anyone?) or unreasonable expectations, consequent self-depreciation and violence towards women for our boys (think the rap industry, a lot of professional athletes, etc). I want my sons to look up to the Dan Evans’ of the world, to admire them the way Dan’s son admires him at film’s end, finally seeing him as being just as cool as any outlaw. I want our young women to see that a man can be good, tough, loving and real – but that a lack of perfect men is no excuse for settling for bad ones. In short, I want more films like 3:10 to Yuma, so we can start fashioning ourselves after realistic heroes again. I think we as a generation, as a nation, as a culture, really need it.

The Western is a dying genre. I read an article not too terribly long ago that pondered why the Western was riding out of the American purview when it’s a distinctly American tradition. Its relevance is receding on a near daily basis. This may have something to do with the fact that the very nature of Western is to be set in a world on the edge of an ever-encroaching future. I think, however, that the Western may be dying because the West is gone and there’s no one around who remembers it. It’s as fictional to us now as James Cameron’s Pandora, and infinitely less colorful. It’s a shame, really, since the Western has a capacity to conjure heroes and outlaws of mythic status out of dust and wind. 3:10 to Yuma is an example of what a Western can be. See it, and remember what it was to believe in heroes. It’s inspiring. It really is. Oh, and it has a cursed revolver nicknamed “The Hand of God” in it. What more do you need to know?

The Good: The chemistry between Russel Crowe and Christian Bale – which, by the way, is surprisingly good.
The Bad: That the movie had to end, and that it’s been largely ignored.
The Ugly: Ben Foster’s mesmerizing turn as Charlie Prince, which went unnoticed.

Overall: 9.4/10

Written By Ries

Ries is a writer, blogger, amateur explorer and full time United States Marine. He graduated from DePauw University in 2011 with a Bachelor’s Degree in English and is busy putting that degree to work writing elite movie reviews for sites like CineKatz. In his spare time he enjoys traveling, movie watching, talking to himself in the mirror and working on novels that may or may not ever be finished. Of all the things he misses about being a civilian, he misses his beard the most.

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  • KEN

    One of my favorite father-son movies.

  • Amanda

    I watched this movie for the first time the other night and really loved it. In today’s society, good men are often discouraged after repeatedly coming in second to bad men. What I like about this movie is that although Dan is our hero, he is set up for failure in all situations, and yet he fights to do the right thing, even if that means he personally may not benefit from the outcome. Being a good man is not an easy road, and yet Dan fights to walk it.
    I also agree with your comments on wanting more movies like 3:10 to Yuma, because this film provides us with a hero to root for, to love, to be proud of, and standards to hold society to–standards, I frankly think have been quite lost. Yesterday, I was going through chick flicks on Netflix, (because yes, I am a girl, and sometimes we just need our romance fixes) but out of the three movies I selected, two–“Take this Waltz” and “Like Crazy”– had female protagonists that cheated on their husbands. Apparently I was unaware that there is now a sub genre of chick flicks that are (to my best guess) created for adulterous women to legitimize their poor decisions and feel better about themselves.
    We need more films like 3:10 to Yuma, and we need to start holding our society to–I would like to say higher standards, but I’m not sure that basic standards exist–standards.

  • Tom

    I think it’s often more ambitious for a movie to ask questions and then try to give you an answer rather than leaving the viewer with open-ended questions. Taking that risk that the answer will be disappointing is brave, and then when it works, it works very well. I think that’s why Children of Men was so great. I haven’t seen 3:10 to Yuma yet, but I plan on it very soon. Also, Pandorum rules.

  • fernandorafaelquinterocastaeda

    Great review, Ries! Really liked this movie and I also think its audience should be bigger. Ben Foster was amazing and so underrated in this!

  • 70srichard

    This is a great review that focuses on the best themes of the film. The performances and film making are top notch but this story really does have something to say. From the original version there was a line that I always think about and hope we all could live up to:

    Mrs. Alice Evans:
    Oh Dan, I don’t want a hero, I want you!

    Dan Evans:
    Honest to God, if I didn’t have to do it, I wouldn’t, but I heard Alex
    scream. The town drunk gave his life because he believed that people
    should be able to live in decency and peace together. Do you think I can
    do less?

  • rich

    i had seen the remake a few months ago, then caught the original on AMC about a month ago. for me, it was like a great dinner with a sad dessert. i just have trouble accepting the ending. i still can’t understand what happened. why did glenn ford/russell crowe go along with the plan? he could have rebelled at any time, just sat on his ass and said, “no, i’m not going.” his gang could have easily stopped everything, but they didn’t. the character was just not someone who would have allowed himself to be taken, but he did allow himself to be taken. someone please explain it to me. i admit – i don’t see it.

    other than the ending – fabulous film.

  • Ries

    I think I agree with you part of the way – Wade wouldn’t allow anyone to catch him, but I think our disagreement sits somewhere in our interpretation of Ben Wade, Rich. I don’t think Ben Wade knew what a friend was before he met Dan, but whether the two were actually friends by film’s end or not, he seems to have come to admire Dan Evans. See that’s the thing I love about 3:10 to Yuma – the “twist,” if you will – that this time, the Outlaw and the Hero came to admire and respect one another, despite their conflicting natures.

    It’s no surprise to anyone that a lot of movies have an Outlaw we reluctantly (or not so reluctantly) admire, and all the characters around them admire them too. I think that Ben Wade came to admire Dan Evans, more than he came to admire anyone before. That’s why he allowed Dan to escort him to the train. Also, bear in mind – he’d escaped Yuma twice. He had nothing to lose, so why not help a friend out?

    Hell, even the unshakeable Dan Evans allows himself a small “moment” with Wade, when tells Wade a story and then admits he just didn’t want Wade thinking badly of him. They’re two men who share a spectrum and sit at opposite ends from one another – Wade the Outlaw and Evans the Hero. It’s not often a hero towers as tall as his opponent. Dan does so, perhaps even overshadowing Wade at film’s end. That’s why, I think, Wade plays along at the end. It’s got nothing to do with right or wrong by then. It has to do with principles, and Wade knows and respects another legend when he sees it. Thanks for commenting, sorry if this was long winded, but I got on a roll! 🙂

  • Ries

    That quote from the original really does sum it all up, doesn’t it? I’m going to show my sons both the original and remake of this great movie. Thanks for reading and commenting, Richard!

  • Ries

    Ben Foster is absolutely AMAZING in this, right?! Thanks for commenting, Fernando. 🙂

  • Ries

    I think you’re right – it’s a tough sell for a movie to answer it’s own questions, since it’s so easy to make a misstep. What questions/answers did you see in Children of Men? And yes, Pandorum rules. Minus the whole alien kung-fu-battle in the middle.

  • Ries

    Mine too, Ken. When I have sons, that is. 🙂

  • Ries

    It’s nice to hear from a woman who shares my disdain for rogue chick-flicks that masquerade loose morals, and it’s even nicer to hear of a woman who likes a good Western when she sees it. I agree with you, about standards – the idea of right and wrong has become a prickly subject, the very notion of “righteousness” has come to possess a negative bent to it. I think that’s because so many people pretend to be righteous as just another tool for self-advancement. I will, however, not ramble about that here. Suffice it to say that I appreciated your compliment in more ways than one. Thanks for commenting, Amanda. 🙂

  • fernandorafaelquinterocastaeda

    It’s my pleasure. And yeah, I ddon’t know why this movie and Foster’s performance completely flew under the radar!

  • rich

    i much prefer a reply/comment that rambles instead of one that cuts itself short. i guess what i’m not thinking about is the idea of wade having escaped from yuma before. perhaps he thinks he has strong enough connections that it won’t matter, and that’s okay.

    one thing i had accepted was that he may not have needed that gang anymore, so he was not hesitating to get away from them. but i couldn’t accept wade allowing himself to be taken like that, especially when he could have easily been shot while the others were shooting at evans. however, okay, maybe he doesn’t fear having to get out of yuma. that can work well enough. thanks.

  • Ries