Over the last decade, westerns have become taboo in Hollywood, reducing the once great genre to a mere afterthought most executives wouldn’t touch with a stick. While it wasn’t abandoned altogether, evidenced by the presence of “American Outlaws,” “Open Range” and “The Missing”, none of the films were huge box office hits or anything exceptional. “3:10 To Yuma” looks to change all this.
A remake of the 1957 film, the story follows struggling rancher Dan Evans (Christian Bale), who is about to have his farm confiscated by the railroad. He and his two sons accidentally witness a stagecoach robbery by notorious outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe), and shortly thereafter Evans plays a key role in Wade’s capture. Desperate for money, he volunteers to join four other men in escorting Wade to the train that will take him to prison. However, their journey is far from an easy one, with Wade’s gang in hot pursuit.
The main reason the movie works as well as it does can be attributed to the acting, which is superb. Bale, who is less of a tough guy here then what we’re used to seeing (“American Psycho,” “Batman Begins,” “The Prestige”), is terrific. With a bum leg, he finds himself trying to vindicate his manhood, both to himself and his son, while keeping his moral code intact. Over the last few years, Bale has progressed into one of the best actors working today, and while his work here will almost assuredly be overlooked come award’s season, it is among the year’s best.
Of course, it helps tremendously when you’re acting across from the great Russell Crowe, who shines in a rare villainous turn. Smooth talking one minute with guns blazing the next, Crowe adds a layer of depth and complexity to the archetypical outlaw character not usually seen. Even though it doesn’t rank among his best performances, a true testament to his previous work, it remains captivating, and the scenes between him and Bale are especially engaging.
The supporting cast also deserves accolades for their work, as they are excellent across the board. The biggest surprise is Ben Foster (“X-Men: The Last Stand,” “Alpha Dog”), who excels as Charlie Prince, Wade’s ruthless right hand man. In deliciously evil fashion, his sheer brutality is able to upstage Crowe, becoming the truly wicked villain of the piece. Other standouts include Peter Fonda as a hired Pinkerton, Dallas Roberts as a railroad businessman, Alan Tudyk as a doctor, and there’s even a cameo by a famous brother comedian to look out for.
With the script, the writers do a great job at reinterpreting the western for a modern audience. Westerns tend to be relatively straightforward with regards to plot, yet this one manages to throw in several twists and turns, making sure to keep things interesting along the way. It also doesn’t save all the action for the inevitable shootout at the end, mixing in a healthy dosage throughout its entirety. Despite all the action, it still is very much a character-driven story, and there is much more going on below the surface than a couple of cool gunfights.
The film almost makes it through without any major problems but stumbles slightly when it comes to the ending. Something about it feels out of place, whether it is the seemingly illogical turn the story and characters take, or the way it borders on being too Hollywood-like for its own good and wrapped up too neatly. While it’s not a bad ending by any means, it’s not the powerful or classic inducing one it deserved.
Backed by an amazing cast, “3:10 To Yuma” is proof there is still life to be found in a western. In addition to offering several exciting action scenes, it is an absorbing look at two very different men who are perhaps more alike than they think. James Mangold (“Girl, Interrupted,” “Identity,” “Walk The Line,”) has turned in another solid directing job, and is to be commended for taking a chance on this one. Not only is his film easily the best western since “Unforgiven,” it’s also one of the most compelling released this year.