The Plot: After the most recent in a string of robberies committed by his gang, notorious outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) is captured by the authorities in a small, dusty town near the home of humble farmer Dan Evans (Christian Bale). Desperate to earn enough money to save his home in the wake of a railroad which is being built over his property, Evans volunteers his services to help transport Wade to a train station several towns away where he will be put on the 3:10 train to Yuma Prison. Along with railroad tycoon Grayson Butterfield (Dallas Roberts), veterinarian Doc Potter (Alan Tudyk), local lawman Tucker (Kevin Durand), and aging gun for hire Byron McElroy (Peter Fonda), Evans and Wade set off for the train station unaware that they are being followed by multiple parties. One is Dan's son William (Logan Lerman), who disobeyed his father's orders, leaving his mother and younger brother alone on the farm in search of adventure. The other is Wade's gang, now led by his right hand man and pistol expert Charlie Prince (Ben Foster), who is intent on rescuing his partner in crime. As they near their destination, Evans and Wade grow a unique bond that neither of them seems willing to accept, but which may soon decide both of their fates.
The Review: I'm not sure that the average moviegoer truly appreciates the western genre. Maybe this is just me waxing poetic, but with so many westerns out there (and believe me, there are a lot of them), and with such colorful characters as John Wayne and Clint Eastwood commonly associated with them, it seems to me that there are entire generations of people who shrug off the western as a throwaway male fantasy genre. I grew up watching and enjoying westerns such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sons of Katie Elder, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance with my father, so in the rare occasion that a promising new addition to the genre comes to theaters, I'm usually pretty excited. Of course in the case of 3:10 To Yuma, it also helps that Russell Crowe and Christian Bale play the two main roles on opposite sides of the law. Tell that to just about any male and he'll be chomping at the bit to see how said conflict plays out.
In recent years Christian Bale has risen the ranks of my list of favorite actors working today and currently has long-time favorite Edward Norton teetering on the edge, about to lose his lofty position at #1. Bale has an uncanny ability to play any role, no matter how intricate or varied, and make the transformation completely convincing without ever leaving me questioning his performance. A perfect example of this is his portrayal of Dan Evans in 3:10 To Yuma. Evans isn't your normal badass cowboy, but rather a somewhat meek individual with a problematic past who has trouble demanding respect from even his own children. Throughout the course of the film he has to rise to several difficult occasions and really shed his skin to become something he's not. Conversely, Russell Crowe's character starts off as that age old wild west standard of a hard drinking, gun running tough guy, but peels back the layers of his personality over time to let both the viewer and Bale's character into his head to see what kind of a person he really is. Both men fill their roles perfectly and, sharing the majority of their scenes together, are constantly stealing the show from one another.
Even with two incredible actors in two equally interesting lead roles, I somehow found myself most interested in the character of Charlie Prince, Ben Wade's second in command. Although there were constantly engrossing scenes playing out between Bale, Crowe, and the other men leading Crowe to his destiny, I was constantly wishing for more scenes with Ben Foster. Though few, all of his scenes popped right off of the screen and grabbed my imagination. Wearing a primarily white outfit to contrast the grays, blacks, and browns of everyone else's, and seemingly taking no shit from anyone, Prince was a refreshing change from the somber attitude of much of the rest of the film. Yet while he wasn't in the movie as much as I may have liked, this fact proved to make his character all the more interesting because of the way other characters referred to him when he wasn't around. From the first time someone in the film calls him "the hand of god", referring to his deadly speed and accuracy with his dual pistols, a bit of a reputation for the character was born that I couldn't wait to see fleshed out in a bloody battle. Having seen Foster's acting chops wasted in an over-the-top role in Hostage and on a throwaway character such as Angel in X-Men: The Last Stand, it was a treat to finally see someone let him create his own onscreen persona, proving that he's got what it takes to play with the big boys.
The rest of the cast of 3:10 To Yuma is rounded out with performances that, while good in their own rights, are dwarfed by those I've already mentioned. Logan Lerman caught my attention in the role of Dan's son William as an up-and-coming actor that I'll have to keep my eye on. Alan Tudyk and, to a lesser extent, Dallas Roberts provide a bit of comic relief without overdoing it. Peter Fonda oozes contempt for Crowe's character with whom he's had an ongoing feud for some time, and Kevin Durand does a splendid job of making the viewer hate him, which is precisely what he was there for. Then, in a surprise cameo as a surly fellow named Zeke, Luke Wilson puts in perhaps one of the best performances I've ever seen from him. True, he's only in the film for a few minutes, but he manages to drop the dopey innocent guy facade that's riddled every role he's ever played and tries his hand at being a badass, which I must admit I enjoyed.
The premise of the the movie is simple enough. The good guys escort the bad guy to prison (or in this case the train that will deliver him to prison), and encounter a few snags along the way, culminating in a doozy of a shootout at the climax. It's not rocket science, but it gives the actors in the film plenty of time to strut their stuff, which proves to be the real draw behind seeing this movie: the performances. 3:10 To Yuma isn't chock full of action, but that's not really what westerns are about. They're all about bravado, friendships, and trust in your fellow man. Don't worry though, as I mentioned, there is quite the gun battle to close out this film, and while I was initially slightly put off by the ending, I've come to realize that it really makes sense in the context of the rest of the plot that preceded it, and I had only momentarily fallen into the ignorant trappings of judging a movie based on it's genre.
The Verdict: 3:10 To Yuma has proven to be one of the truly satisfying films of 2007 thus far. If the stellar cast alone isn't enough to convince you to see this movie, let my recommendation be the one to set you over the edge: go see 3:10 To Yuma because simply put, it is a great film.