Rating: 3.75/5 Stars
On the surface, 3:10 to Yuma is a very well made gritty rock 'em sock 'em Western featuring gunfights, cattle ranchers, struggles for land and water, the railroad coming through(complete with Chinese workers), outlaw gangs with larger than life artist psycho murderer leaders, Federal Marshals with corrupt posses, a mix of bravery and cowardice and the corresponding just deserts. There's even a shiny new gatling gun. If that's what you're into, you'll love the film. It's got everything.
But I like my thrillers with characters that are actually vulnerable. In all three of the Terminator films you could actually believe in some scenes the main characters were in a real fight for their lives. But Russell Crowe as the notorious Ben Wade is not. Like his role in Gladiator he survives danger after not-so-harrowing danger without my ever wondering if he might actually be killed. The recent Bourne Ultimatum is the extreme example of this, nearly putting me to sleep with the apparently invulnerable Jason Bourne striding confidently from scene to scene with the only question being whether he can stop other people from getting killed. But unlike Jason Bourne, Ben Wade isn't the character you're meant to care about in 3:10 To Yuma.
Christian Bale plays Dan Evans, a down-to-earth civil war vet start-up rancher whose mortgage holder wants to foreclose and resell his drought stricken land to the railroad. He's got a fourteen year old son who thinks he's a coward because he chooses the cautious, moral high ground in the land conflict. When the local law enforcement needs a good shot to help escort Ben Wade to catch the 3:10 train to Yuma prison, Dan signs up despite the job being more or less a suicide mission.
At first this is strictly about earning enough money in time to save the ranch, but later you understand he's seeking redemption in the eyes of his son. And the invincible Ben Wade achieves a biblical stature, albeit as the Angel of Death smiting the wicked and escorting the just through their trials. For me this makes the invulnerable super gunfighter more interesting than Jason Bourne could ever be but also introduces an almost patronizing undercurrent of bubblegum good guy / bad guy.
It reminds me of George Lucas' unforgivable Gredo-shot-first retouch of the bar scene in Star Wars. Come on George, you can give us characters that sometimes do bad things. We can handle the complexity, I promise. And to James Mangold, director of 3:10 to Yuma, we don't have to know Ben Wade robs the railroad because they killed dozens of Apache women and children. He can be a real live quirky, mostly bad, guy who grows to respect Dan Evans. We won't think any less of you and we'll love it because sometimes life is like that.