**** out of *****
There haven’t been too many Westerns since the 1970s, but “3:10 to Yuma” proves that there may yet be life in this genre, long considered a dying – or dead – art form.
“3:10 to Yuma,” a remake of a 1957 film by the same name (based on a short story by Elmore Leonard) surmises all that is great and essential about the Western: the lone man confronted with a moral conundrum, the charismatic and tenacious outlaw, the gunfights, the terse dialogue – “3:10” has it all. The film may not be an unequivocal masterpiece on par with Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven,” (the yardstick against which all modern Westerns are measured) but it’s a satisfying and at times exhilarating addition to this venerable genre.
At its core, “3:10” is actually a very simple story about two men. Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is a careworn rancher who accepts a job escorting notorious outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) to Contention, Arizona where Wade will board the 3:10 train to Yuma prison.
This seemingly straightforward task is complicated by the fact that Wade’s posse, now under the command of a psychotic gunfighter named Charlie Prince (Ben Foster), is intent on freeing their boss from the clutches of the law.
Wade, though, is dangerous all by himself. He’s intelligent and calculating, capable of shooting his own men if it suits his purposes.
But he also seems to harbor a desire to leave his life as an outlaw behind, as exemplified in a quiet scene where Wade asks a pretty barmaid (Emma Nelson) to run away with him. “I’m not wanted in Mexico,” he tells her, but she rejects the offer.
Dan, unlike the brash Wade, tends to err on the side of caution. His fourteen-year-old son William (Logan Lerman) doesn’t respect him, and ultimately what motivates Dan to escort Wade to Contention is his need to prove to himself and to his son that he can do the right thing.
“3:10 to Yuma” features a host of compelling action scenes, including Wade’s ingenious robbery of a stagecoach and a shootout/chase through a mining camp, but the real skill and joy of the film lies in its performances.
Crowe, undoubtedly one of the best actors working today, infuses Wade with equal parts unctuous charm and pensive humanity; he commands your attention whenever he’s onscreen.
And Bale does a commendable job providing the film with its moral center, making Dan Evans a multi-layered hero who struggles with his own conscience as much as he struggles with Wade.
The film’s only glaring flaw is in piling complication upon complication during the middle section, where Wade tries and fails to escape from Dan and meet up with the posse.
But when the film slows down and simply lets these two men interact, it achieves a masterful and contemplative quality worthy of the greatest Westerns.