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What rules the universe: order or chaos? Is there a plan set forth by a supreme being or are we all making it up as we go? How do your answers affect the way you live your life? Are you bound by the rules agreed to by society or do you instead choose to do what’s best for you? And does that change when life treats you unfairly? Director James Mangold deals with thought-provoking ideas in this update of the 1957 western based on Elmore Leonard’s short story.

Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is a former Civil War soldier struggling to make a life for his family. He bought a ranch in Bisbee, AZ with the money he received after being badly wounded in the leg, but his cows are dying due to a drought. He has to choose buying medicine for his youngest son over paying the mortgage. That decision further proves to the property owner the land is worth more selling it to the railroad. The situation is grim and the doubt felt by his wife and oldest son, Will, weigh heavy on Evans’ shoulders.

Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) stands in sharp contrast to Evans as a man appearing in control of his fate rather than beaten down by it. He is a well-known outlaw responsible for many robberies and deaths. Yet, he is an appealing figure to some, including Will, who reads dime stores novels that tell Wild West tales similar to ones Wade has lived, because he is smart, resourceful, and charismatic.

After the latest of many heists of the Southern Pacific Railroad’s payroll, Wade and his men celebrate in Bisbee. The gang takes off, leaving Wade behind to enjoy some female companionship for the night. With his confidence high and his guard down, the local sheriff captures Wade the next morning. He needs to be escorted to the town of Contention, three days away on horseback, so he can be put on the 3:10 train to Yuma where he will be tried and put in federal prison. The railroad offers a reward to any who help transport Wade, enough in wages to save Evans’ farm. The money is so high because Wade’s men will kill to get him back. Evans decides to take the risk because it’s the only way to save his farm.

As they head towards Contention, Wade gets away only to be caught by men who act no different than he does. When Evans and the others catch up, they find Wade tied up and being electrocuted, receiving a punishment many feel he deserves: vengeance, Old Testament style. However, Evans and the others see this lawlessness no different than Wade’s and demand he is turned over.

In Contention, Wade’s men catch up. Not even the railroad man is willing to risk his life against the overwhelming odds. Similar to High Noon, Evans becomes the lone man to stand against the bad guys and is determined to bring Wade to justice. Wade tempts Evans with five times the amount of money the railroad offered and safe passage. Besides, he’s already escaped from Yuma before. Whose will and determination will win out?

The story of both men slowly unravels and is smartly revealed by the writers throughout the film. The two characters grow to respect each other as they and the audience learn more about what drove the choices they made and who they really are. They aren’t simply good guy and bad guy as they first appeared and could have ended in each other’s places if different decisions had been made.

Both men know The Bible. Wade quotes it, but has rejected the path suggested. Evans struggles with it, but ultimately believes. He is Christ-like and the film is filled with religious imagery throughout. That’s not to say the film proselytizes Christianity, but like many great stories, such as Cool Hand Luke and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, it uses the metaphor of the Christ myth to speak about the human condition. Wade takes the role of Lucifer with his “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven” attitude, but he comes across like an avenging angel at times. Notice the people who receive punishment at his hands.

3:10 to Yuma (2007) tells a marvelous story that can be taken solely as a straightforward adventure film while also offering themes to explore and contemplate. The acting performances by all, especially the leads, are great to watch. Bale and Crowe are two of the best actors working today and they compliment each other well. All the crew departments excel in their roles, creating authenticity in all the scenes. It is the best film so far this year and deserves to be honored as such.

Grade: A+


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