Rancher Dan Evans (Christian Bale) awakens one night to find himself in the unfortunate position of having his barn burned down. His cattle have all escaped, the last of the feed has been turned to ash, and there are a couple of men riding their horses, telling him that in a week, his house will be next. Dan, a one-legged Civil War veteran, is in debt to a man named Hollander, and if he can’t find the money in a week, he’ll be out of a business and a home.
The next morning, he gets his two sons together in order to round up the cattle. They bear witness to a robbery performed by Ben Wade (Russell Crowe), and his goonies. Eventually, Ben and Dan come face to face, but they’re not going to fight just yet. They leave peacefully, Dan gets his cattle (which Ben used to help with the robbery), and they go on with their days. Eventually, Dan heads into town in order to try to bargain with the man he’s indebted to, but finds himself aiding in the capture of Ben, who, as we find out, has killed dozens of men and robbed in excess of $400,000. 3:10 to Yuma is set in the 19th Century, so keep in mind just how much money that is.
Unfortunately for the local police, they can’t do anything to Ben at this location. He has to be moved to the Yuma penitentiary, and they haven’t captured his gang; they could show up any time to free him. A group is assembled to transport him to the town of Contention to put Ben on the 3:10 train that will take him to Yuma. Dan agrees to come with them for a fee of $200, presumably enough to pay back his debt — that is, assuming he makes it through the journey in one piece.
What we get next is a Western crossed with a road movie. One by one, members of the group are killed off by Ben or by outside influences, all while on the journey to get to Yuma. Ben’s posse, now led by Charlie Prince (Ben Foster), are on the group’s tail, and won’t you be surprised to learn that we end up with a shootout that involves practically every member of a town that’s able to carry a gun. There are many more gunfights throughout, as well as a couple of chase scenes. All the while, Ben laughs at the situation he finds himself in.
3:10 to Yuma works best when it focuses on the interaction between our two main characters. They don’t exactly have a psychological battle with one another, but they’re dealings are telling. They want to figure each other out, and they want to learn exactly what the other is thinking at that moment in time — and maybe use that to their advantage. Ben explains early on that he’s much smarter than the rest of his crew, and we believe him; he does, after all, quote bible passages at key moments and sketch other people.
Each character is interesting in his own right, and it’s always too bad when the film decides to either move away from them to focus solely on someone else, or throw in secondary characters to distract us from the stars. The most annoying part of this film comes to us in the form of Dan’s eldest son, Will (Logan Lerman), who idolizes Ben more than his own father. He’s told to stay home, but tags along anyway, actually proving himself useful more often than not.
However, I disliked him because of the way his character was written. He never obeys, even when it would make more sense, and he’s so disrespectful that you just want to smack him. Wishing to see a 14-year-old kid die may not speak highly of me, but I’ll admit that there were times when I hoped, on a narrative level anyway, that he wouldn’t make it to the end. As a character explains in the film, there’s a difference between wanting to see someone die and actually killing them. It might be a good thing I wasn’t granted the power to kill movie characters; we would find out the kind of person I really am.
Anyway, it turns out to be a good idea to include him at the end, as 3:10 to Yuma ends strongly and ambiguously enough to both make you feel something while also leaving you with enough questions to ponder about as you go to bed that night. The kid actually serves a purpose, not only in the sense of saving his father from almost certain death a couple of times, but by hammering home a couple of important points that the movie wants to get across, while also giving us one or two emotionally compelling scenes.
I’m not sure if it’s possible to truly hate a Russell Crowe character. He always seems to come across as a nice man, even though here he’s a murderer and thief. However, he’s not our main villain — that’s Ben Foster’s character. As a result, Crowe constantly being endearing works well because we grow to like him, especially because he’s the most interesting character in the film. He’s a little like Hannibal Lecter in that respect; he’s someone who has done bad things, but because of his intelligence and actor, we like him regardless.
3:10 to Yuma is a very enjoyable mix of a Western and a road movie. It takes two interesting characters, puts them in situations where trust and comradery are necessary for them to survive, and sees what they’ll do in order to survive. Their interactions are so enjoyable to watch, even though the interruptions by the side characters are annoying. The action is entertaining, the ending is satisfying in multiple areas, and the film as a whole is a blast to watch.