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After watching Russell Crowe in hero mode a few nights back in American Gangster, it was fun to see him in all-out bad guy mode. He’s one of the few actors around that has the gravitas to make you fully believe him in either role, and it’s fun to watch him stretch those impressive muscles. Here in 3:10 to Yuma, he plays one of the great western villains in Ben Wade. Until a third act slip-up nearly ruins his character and the entire movie. (Which, I’ll write about in full spoiler mode below.) I was enjoying the film and his character so much up till that point, that despite the total flaw, I tried to overlook it and enjoy the film for all its other great moments.

3:10 to Yuma focuses on two characters, Russell’s Ben Wade, who’s a total hard ass, has zero compassion for human life, and leads a gang of ruffians with an iron fist. On the other side is Christian Bale’s Dan Evans, he’s the polar opposite; tries to do everything by the book and goes out of his way to avoid violence. But it’s a harsh world and on the inside he’s really a hard man, trying to be good, and he's hiding something about his past. In the opening scene of the film, his family’s barn is burned down by the local goons working for the rich land owner, who Dan owes money too. The next day, he’s taking his sons and the last of their cows on the way to town, when they run across the path of Ben and his gang, who are robbing a stage coach.

You can tell this is a new fangled western in this highly stylized action scene, the guys on the coach have a Gatling gun mounted to the back and fire away mercilessly, while the bad guys ride hard after them, one of them even exploding when they get hit, because of the dynamite in their pocket. The scene ends with the coach flipping in a fury of dust and strewn bodies. The whole thing feels more like a car chase from a Bourne movie, than anything resembling the traditional western.

Ben shows a bit of compassion by letting Dan and his son's go and rides into town, where he is soon caught, due to his own arrogance. The railroad man, who’s coach was just robbed, offers a group of untrained men a reward if they get Ben on the 3:10 to Yuma train, taking Ben to prison. A doctor, one of the goons who burned Dan’s barn down, a Pinkerton who was the last left from the coach, and Dan who just walked into town. Dan wants to do the right thing, but also wants the $200 to save his family’s ranch. Through some good trickery the group manages to send Ben’s gang in the wrong direction, buying them some time, but still manage to run into a group of rogue Indians, some mining men that have it in for Ben, and Ben himself offers up all kinds of trouble on their trip to Yuma, and not everybody makes it there alive. Dan keeps alive thanks to an unlikely one-sided friendship with Ben, who sees Dan as a kindred spirit in some way.

The film offers up a nice simple western story, 6 unprepared men, taking one of the most dangerous men alive across the desert. The film is very nicely put together with a modern western flair, beautifully shot in cinemascope, it looks pretty authentic, with everybody’s dusty and dirty, plenty of hard horse riding and six guns a blazing. Crowe makes Ben a charismatic villain with ice cold heart. Bale does his usual thing, going all out, looking the dirtiest and most beat up of the bunch. Ben Foster has a blast playing Ben’s right hand man, a maniacal gunman, without an ounce of pity. Peter Fonda has his best role in years as the Pinkerton, who’s run in with Ben a few times before, but remains professionally pissed about it. I was totally into the story, and it’s put together so deftly, that I was really falling in love with the, until the story takes a completely unconvincing twist at the end. But it leads to another cool shoot-out in the streets of Yuma, so I wasn’t totally upset, but it nearly ruined this otherwise perfect western. Grade: B-

(Spoilers ahead, I’m going to discuss the ending that nearly ruined the film.) Okay, so up until the very end of the film, Ben is a ruthless killer, willing to do anything to stay out of jail. When Dan reveals his secret about being injured by his own men in the war, Ben suddenly flips, changing from someone who'd do anything in his power to stay out of jail, to helping Dan get him on the train. Ben starts gunning down his own gang, and willingly puts himself on the train, even after Dan is dead. Sure, he’s mentioned that he’s escaped prison, but where’s the motivation; you don’t flip on a dime from ultimate bad guy, to decent fellow, with just a couple of words. It rang completely false.

4 Responses to 3:10 to Yuma:

  1. Ben Foster is my least favorite actor right now. He's been bugging me since I first saw him in Hostage. I disliked him in X-Men, 3:10 to Yuma, and The Punisher.

  1. I think you missed the point of the ending. He learned to respect Dan and he wanted Dan's family to get the money for successfully delivering him to the train.

  1. I got what they were trying to do, they just didn't sell it for me. A few minutes before that, he's trying to get away. Too much change, too quickly, to a character I couldn't believe would do it.

  1. Good job i already saw the film. The trailer is very revealing. But I guess with the Western genre dying it had to be done...