The subtlety of character in the Western genre has been stampeded by horror and action films. Yet, while the contemporary Western landscape resembles the barren plains that its films often depict, Hollywood still occasionally tries to make audiences recall a time when John Ford and Sergio Leone drove the industry.
The latest attempt is “3:10 to Yuma,” a story about a no-luck rancher named Dan Evans (Christian Bale) who agrees to transport the notorious criminal Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) to a train so he can be brought to justice. Along the way, Evans must deal with shifting alliances and Wade’s nefarious mind games. Evans agrees to the mission so his farm may be spared and his family supported.
Evans’ honor is the heart of the movie. His journey is not so much about Wade and the miles traveled as it is about proving himself and his internal change. His honor is personified in his son, who has doubts about his father’s worth and seems to be easy prey for Wade’s deceptive charm.
The film has a wonderfully subdued style for a Western. The theme of what it means to be a man quietly runs throughout, something that proves infinitely better than the alternative route of noisy bravado.
The characters, however, prove to be the strongest aspect. The whole principle cast goes through significant change, and it gives the audience a set of three-dimensional people to watch. Bale and Crowe are mesmerizing in their shape-shifting personalities, and their difficult circumstances test their fortitude and moral character.
The restrained tone does dissolve into an improbable action sequence near the end, but the last moments regain the film’s true spirit. And while it never comes close to the brilliance of 2005’s “The Proposition,” “3:10 to Yuma” is a great film and a great Western.
Gabe Habash may be contacted at email@example.com.