To say 3:10 to Yuma is the best western in over a decade is irrefutable. But that isn’t saying much since the genre has waned since its heyday after Clint Eastwood hung up his six shooters. Since then there have been modernized attempts here and there, but the western has been plagued with familiar tumbleweeds for years. The best in recent memory was with Eastwood back in the saddle with Unforgiven.
So it’s only fitting that a film capable of reviving the classic American genre be a remake of a 1957 version and star two of the finest actors of the generation side by side. But an Aussie and a Welshman?
Christian Bale has been described as a chameleon and I can think of no better explanation for how well he transforms into a role. It’s no surprise that he settles in well to another genre, this time as Dan Evans, a rancher struggli
ng to provide for his family. But this layered character also struggles with his own masculinity. Left handicapped after the Civil War, Evans must find a way to rescue his family from the mounting debt and prove to his boys that he isn’t half a man.
Russell Crowe plays the infamous Ben Wade, a larger than life legend as much as a bandit and heartless murderer. Like Bale’s character, Wade is a complex man. He’s capable of cold-blooded killing, sweet talking the ladies, and making profound statements about the similarities between “white hats” and “black hats.” It takes a special kind of actor to play a hated role like Ben Wade, yet win you over with his sly charm. Crowe will likely just miss a nomination for this great performance, but I guarantee he’ll be announced for American Gangster as recognition for this year’s collective brilliance.
But it’s not just these powerhouses that dominate the 117 minute run time. The rest of the ensemble is strong, started by a grizzly Peter Fonda and lead by a surprisingly solid performance from Ben Foster, who until now has been relegated to angsty teen parts on “Six Feet Under” and X-Men 3. His Charlie Prince is every bit as sinister as his outlaw mentor, but lacks the cunning that propelled Wade to become the most notorious thief in the West. He must have practiced the steely-eyed look though, because he’s got that down.
Money in a prevalent theme throughout, swaying the loyalty of just about every character. But unlike the others’ affinity for coin pouches, Evans is motivated not by greed, but a much more noble reason. What results is a mutual respect between prisoner and capturer in a trek that teeters on rocky ground between civilized discourse and violent mayhem.
Time is also clearly an element here, as Evans and friends must transport Wade to the scheduled train while being pursued by Wade’s gaining crew of loyal bandits, lead by Prince. But when Evans throws the pocket watch in frustration, you can physically see Bale wrestling with his own sense of duty, justice, sacrifice, and honor.