BOTTOM LINE: Strong, atmospheric western with great performances, but stretches credibility in a few places and especially towards the end of the film.
THE GOOD: Following in the footsteps of westerns such as “Unforgiven", 3:10 To Yuma throws us in to the lives of some morally questionable and/or down-on-their-luck characters who end up finding something decent within themselves so they can stand up and be proud. Russell Crowe plays successful, ruthless, but charming robber Ben Wade, who has robbed 22 individual coaches belonging to the Pacific Railroad. On his latest robbery, he has a chance encounter with wannabe rancher Dan Evans played by Christian Bale. From the outset, they enter a love/hate relationship where they are constantly at odds but somehow come to respect each other, and this is what ultimately makes the film worth watching. Wade is nasty, but he's not mean. Even when Dan takes money to escort Wade under guard to his prison-bound train, the “3:10 To Yuma", you never get the sense that Wade holds any grudges against Dan.
As the film progresses, Dan comes to rely on Wade to help him find his own sense of self-respect and the respect of his son. The film has a moody, atmospheric tone as it guides you along Dan's quest (with his posse) to take Wade to his destiny. But on their trail is Wade's own posse, led by a mean, deadly accurate and cold-hearted bastard called Charlie Prince (played with relish by Ben Foster). That character alone made the film worth watching! As with all westerns, you know there's a showdown at the end but the way it all goes down is a pleasant surprise and highlights the revisionist take that the filmmakers have employed here. The West isn't really glamourised much, and is shown for the down-trodden, harsh world that it probably really was. All of this put together makes for some fine drama, tense sequences and strong characterisations with Christian Bale surprisingly coming out on top over Russell Crowe, who put in a fine performance himself.
THE BAD: Some of the character motivations, particularly towards the climax lean strongly towards the incredible side. Russell Crowe from the outset plays a bad guy who despite having a sense of charm does not have a strong sense of decency. Towards the end, through some ‘interesting’ dialogue, we are guided to the notion that he does have a heart inside but without the sense of build-up, or any sign before hand that it was going to happen, the whole thing comes across forced. As a result, the ending where Crowe kills his own posse for killing Dan is not as strong as what it could have been. On the flip side, Crowe is trying so hard to escape throughout the film that by the end when he is given that chance, he instead decides to help Dan gain his self-respect and the respect of his son by allowing Dan to get him on the 3:10 train to Yuma prison. Sure he may be the bad guy with the heart but I don't think his ‘heart’ was that big to allow that (despite the fact that he still manages to escape), especially as so much of the film concentrates on Crowe behaving in the opposite manner.
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Todd Murphy is a staff reviewer at the film/DVD review web site, All About Movies.net - for all the latest reviews on the newest releases. He is also an administrator for the web site: http://www.approachingsexywomen.com