The western genre was long presumed dead, but it has resurrected itself in the form of 3:10 to Yuma, a gritty, violent and meaningful action-drama starring Christian Bale and Russell Crowe. Directed by James Mangold (Walk the Line, Cop Land), 3:10 to Yuma shows that westerns still have a place among modern audiences.
The movie is about two men who do what they need to do to survive. Bale plays Dan Evans, a poor farmer who, to prove himself to his son and wife and to earn some much-needed cash, offers to transport an evil criminal named Ben Wade (Crowe) across the desert to the prison train. Even by himself, Wade is a handful - one by one, he manages to kill off his travel partners - but Wade's gang is even more dangerous, and they will do anything to set their leader free. As 3:10 nears, Evans finds himself facing the horrible truth: he could die for a man no one else is willing to die for.
3:10 to Yuma is stapled with great performances, some exciting action and a tense story that both modernizes the western genre and embraces it at the same time. Bale and Crowe are great; while neither performance is specifically noteworthy, but actors are solid and play well off one another. In his first villainous role since the mid 90's, Crowe is fun to watch as an amoral, violent sleaze bag. Bale matches the Oscar winner's performance. One reason westerns turned south in the last couple of decades is because audiences shied away from the rather stereotypical characters and acting found in the genre, but these actors add a grittiness to the story.
As for the movie itself, it works on many levels. The characters are well developed and the villains downright evil. Ben Foster, who I'll admit is a rather tiny, dweeby looking guy (no offense, Ben), continues to prove that he can shed that appearance as he plays an extremely nasty (both in appearance and attitude) cowboy who will kill anyone who interferes. The story is fact-paced without losing its meaning, and Mangold plays up the strange one-way bond that develops between the two lead actors, all the while building up the tension that mounts before the final action sequence.
The ending is long and filled with bullets, though a character twist made me not appreciate it quite as much. While I liked the way the relationship forms between Crowe and Bale, I didn't completely buy into what takes place in the final moments of the film. That being said, the film still ends with a bang, and that's not the only action to be found. There are several other gunfights and killings scattered throughout the movie.
3:10 to Yuma does lag in a few parts, but overall is very streamlined and powerful action-drama that hopefully should bring on more westerns in the near future. It'll take actors like Bale and Crowe to make westerns appeal to modern audiences, but that's just what 3:10 to Yuma delivers here.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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