To be truthful, when we finished watching my first and only thought was "cool movie." But, seeing as how I was on a "date," I decided to have the post-movie "So what did you think?" conversation. I thought it would go, Me: "I liked it." Him: "Yeah, me, too. Good acting. Cool setpieces." Me: "Yeah. Love you, good night." Instead, my husband took a beat, reflected, and as he began to speak the deeper levels of the movie were revealed to me. Warren surmised that Ben Wade (Russell Crowe's charismatic bad guy) started off the movie believing he was "rotten as hell" and willing to kill anyone in his way including members of his own gang, but his ultimate respect for his captor Dan Evans (brilliantly played by Christian Bale with a desperate, feral morality) caused him to recognize the potential goodness in himself, so much so that he metaphorically murders his bad side and honors Dan by getting on the 3:10 to Yuma (a train to prison) instead of taking the easy road of escape. The ending also implies that Wade will be a free man again, but will he be a free man who forms a new blood-thirsty, soulless gang, or will he be a man who becomes a loving father and husband like Dan? I think he'll lean towards the latter because the Ben Wade who gets on the train is at least willing to take the implied journey to rehabilitation and redemption. Or will it be a stop gap and lead him to a life like Clint Eastwood's William Muny in "Unforgiven"?
(If you haven't seen "Unforgiven" or it's been a while, I recommend checking it out -- it's a fantastic thematic companion piece to "3:10 to Yuma.") Either way, the concept that being true to your heart (as Dan was) can influence even the coldest of killers (Ben) to search for his own elevates the movie for all viewers, even those (like myself) who were not initially looking beyond its slickly satisfying pop surface.
Warren then broke down the subtext of the father-son relationship between Ben Wade and his right-hand henchman Charlie Prince, who is effectively played by Ben Foster as a 19th-Century Terminator (Robert Patrick's T-1000, please, not Schwarzenegger) and juxtaposed it to the overt, pop father-son relationship between Dan Evans and 14-year-old William (Logan Lerman of the defunct WB's "Jack And Bobby"). Among all of Warren's insightful, scholarly musings (always nice to be reminded how bright your spouse is, even at 1am when you kind of want him to shut up and let you sleep), I managed to point out the unrequited homosexual undertones of Charlie Prince's attachment to Ben Wade (elegantly expressed at the time as"Um, I think there was a gay thing happening in there, too"). Warren trumped me again by informing me that dynamic is a typical staple in many westerns and the documentary "The Celluloid Closet" devotes a large segment to gay subtext in oaters.
As Warren continued to support his thoughts with specifics within scenes and spot-on dialogue quotes (I only remembered the slick stuff like the "mamas" line quoted above), I realized I really didn't "see" "3:10 to Yuma" and that I should watch it and probably every western I ever saw at least once more (with the exception of "Unforgiven" which I managed to "get" when I first saw it in 1992 and in subsequent cable viewings). Because, probably more than every once in a while, you can lift the top off a potboiler and see something's actually cooking.
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