3:10 to Yuma (2007)

Rated: R
Grade: ADB+A=A
Budget: $55 million
Box Office: $56 million US, $6 million int’l

Directed by: James Mangold, who previously made Walk the Line, Identity, Kate & Leopold, Girl Interrupted, Cop Land, and the very odd Heavy.
Starring: Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Logan Lerman, Dallas Roberts, Ben Foster, Peter Fonda, Gretchen Mol, and Luce Rains.

A down-on-his-luck rancher has a chance to earn enough to save his ranch and survive by helping transport notorious fugitive Ben Wade to Contention, Arizona for the 3:10 prison train to Yuma. Unfortunately for him, Wade’s gang of ruthless killers is bent on stopping him and rescuing their leader.

Entertainment Value: A
This is the consummate modern Western, starring two men who seem like they were born to play these roles. The plot has a thousand maneuvers, many of which are highly implausible, but you find yourself not caring because the movie is so engaging and unpredictable. As each piece unfolds, what previously seemed unlikely choices start to make sense. The Western this most reminded me of was Unforgiven.

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol D, Sexuality B, Violence D, Language C, Illegality F
Alcohol is everywhere in this movie, although, oddly, there is very little drunkenness shown. There is only one scene of sexuality, which is implied and not so much shown. The characters use profanity sufficient to earn an R, but it’s not excessive. Crime is shown as a profitable way of life for the outlaws. But violence is surely the main concern here, with men being burned alive, tortured, and operated on and, of course, lots of gun murders. It should be an R, but it’s at the milder end of the R spectrum.

Significant Content: B+
I’m tempted to give it an A because of my own take on the whole movie, but there are enough reasons not to. Bankers, rail men, and sheriffs are shown as cowardly and exploitative profiteers. The only heroes are common men, and cowardice is a principal virtue. The story people tell about themselves is vitally important to them. Nothing can substitute for grit and perseverance. Knowing the Bible won’t make you a good person. Live by the sword, die by the sword. Don’t talk to the Devil.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
Of all the artistic choices here, the only one I really disliked was the use of modern-day profanity, which seemed unnecessary and out-of-place. The old Westerns never required it, and I don’t know why they felt it was necessary here. But aside from that, the characters and actions here generate plenty of interesting discussion fodder. I’ll tell you my three tentative conclusions about the movie. (Warning: potential spoilers here.) One possibility (70%) is to show us that all the things we think are so meaningful in life are really just a charade in the end. Another possibility (85%) is that Russell Crowe represents the Devil, and the lesson is that no matter which side you fight on, if you use the Devil’s methods you’ll be destroyed in the end anyway. My final possibility (95%) is that Evans comes to represent the life Wade wishes he would have chosen and, for all the evil that he has done, enabling Evans comes to represent a kind of displaced personal redemption for Wade. Hence the ending.

Discussion Questions:
~Compare the evil of Wade’s gang with that of the “businessman” Hollander. Why do you react so adversely to the Evans barn being burned but not to the money being stolen from the armored coach?
~What do you make of the use of Bible quotes by Wade? Does His Bible knowledge influence him in any way? Does Evans live a more faithful life? Consider the story about Wade’s mother. What do you make of the comment by the Pinkerton that there’s no need to read any book other than the Bible. Has he really adopted a Biblical life in spite of his lip service?
~Wade seems like he would be truly happy with the bartender. What do you think keeps him from settling down with her?
~William Evans admires Wade because he’s a take-action sort of guy, but Wade admires Dan Evans for more complex reasons. What do you make of this? What does this say about the life of violence’s appeal and reality? Could this relationship be the primary interpretive key to the movie? How might Christians learn from this?
~The self-identity narrative each character tells others and himself seems to be very important, even if there are untrue parts in it. Why is the story we tell of ourselves so important? What are the important parts of your own personal story?
~How might the theme of avoiding conversation with the Devil be seen as a major element of this movie? Who influences whom in this movie? Do you think Wade and Evans could have been friends under other circumstances? In what ways might you say they actually are friends in this movie?
~What do you think of Evans’s decision to finish the mission even when he didn’t have to? Was this necessary principled courage or was this a foolish choice to put his family at risk of losing him?
~A jaded observer might say that Evans and Wade were both willing to kill for money. Is this a fair assessment? Is all killing the same?
~What are some of the cowardly things done in this movie? Does cowardice work out for anyone who chooses it? Are there worse things than being a coward?
~~Why does Wade treat Evans so differently from the other characters? Does he have an operating morality? Can you figure out what it is? Was it consistent throughout the movie? Why do you think Wade makes the decisions he makes toward the end? Was the ending the total breakdown of Wade’s character or the ultimate and necessary consequence of it?
~What do you make of Wade’s artistic endeavors? What is this meant to say about him? Does he swear in the movie? What does this say about him?
~What do you think of Wade’s statement to William that there is nothing good in him or else he couldn’t have led his own men? Was there really any good in him?
~Can the Devil be fought with force? What does the Bible say about this?
~It’s been said that Star Wars is really just a Western. If you’re so inclined, compare Wade with Darth Vader and the relationship between Wade and Evans with that between Luke and Vader. Consider the two sides of the force theme as well.

Overall Grade: A
As I said, it’s highly intriguing, and there’s plenty to talk about as well.

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