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Russell Crowe .Ben Wade
Christian Bale .Dan Evans
Logan Lerman .William Evans
Dallas Roberts .Grayson Butterfield
Ben Foster .Charlie Prince
Peter Fonda .Byron McElroy
Vinessa Shaw .Emmy Nelson
Alan Tudyk .Doc Potter
Luce Rains .Marshal Weathers
Gretchen Mol .Alice Evans
Lennie Loftin .Glen Hollander
Already unabashed praise is being heaped upon 3:10 to Yuma. It seems we forget that the reason westerns always come across as high art in this day and age is because they are a rare treat. In truth, the conventions of the genre are simplistic and even a mediocre western appears to be better than most films from inferior genres. That is not to say that 3:10 to Yuma is a poor western, quite the opposite actually, but it would have just as appealing if it had been set in another time and place. However, had that been the case, the film would likely have been dismissed by the same people who are currently praising it.
Like many of its brethren, 3:10 to Yuma embraces the inherent mystique the Old West still carries. There is something romantic about the lawless code of morality that was the supposed way of the west, and the film plays it to the hilt. Every man must decide what they must to do honor their personal ethics. With each obstacle and twist in the road, a new challenge surfaces and the individual must choose what kind of man he wants to be. Such morally ambiguous characters lie at the core of any good western, but a western becomes great based on where each character’s moral compass ultimately leads them.
3:10 to Yuma badly wishes to be a great western, but it is that blatant effort that wears thin by the closing credits. That self-awareness undermines the better aspects of the genre and is thus at the heart of why the film would have been acceptable as a crime drama as well. It is also why the movie is particularly humorous and riveting. The technical aspects, actors, and action are decidedly modern while the pacing, story, and cinematography are comparatively old-school. The blended concoction makes for an enthralling hybrid that, admittedly, does deserve some praise.
The titular train is scheduled to take robber/murderer extraordinaire Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) to jail, or to be hung as it is never made completely clear which it will be. Escorting Wade are a variety of interested parties including a bounty hunter long on Wade’s trail (Peter Fonda), a railroad representative (Dallas Roberts), and most notably Dan Evans (Christian Bale); a rancher hard-up for cash to protect his land from being bought out by the railroad. In their path stands Wade’s gang, led in the interim by Charlie Prince (Ben Foster). Naturally, the film builds toward the final showdown at the train station and crescendos with one character’s decision to do what they think to be right. In actuality, every character remains true to his values, which gives the film some emotional resonance.
Some might be surprised by what side of good and evil Wade and Evans come to rest. It is left for us to decide if Evans is good with villainous tendencies because escorts Wade to the station so that he will be a hero in the eyes of his son. Or is he evil with honorable tendencies because he is only doing it for the money to save his family’s ranch? Conversely, Wade shows enough decency throughout the journey that it begins to come into question the type of man he is. He says himself that to lead a pack of animals such as his gang he cannot afford to be a good person, yet his eyes tell a different story. Wade comes to respect, or at least appreciate, the dilemma Evans believes himself to be in. Evans hates the way his sons look at him, the way his wife doesn’t, and the hand that God has dealt him. Meanwhile, Wade sees Evans’ situation as something from which many positives might be derived. Wade understands what Evans truly wants, and Wade is in control of whether or not Evans gets it.
Bale plays Evans as a brooding stonewall that Wade must chink away at until there is some sign of compassion. As expected, Crowe plays Wade perfectly as a seemingly suave criminal with a hidden agenda, but Wade deceivingly wears his heart on his sleeve in an effort to keep them guessing. In true western fashion, 3:10 to Yuma‘s answers seem hidden, but the truth lies right on the surface.
FINAL RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1-5 BUCKETS):