3:10 to Yuma (Lions Gate Films, R)

film_310_smI'm glad Hollywood is long past its obsession with westerns, because it makes a film like 3:10 to Yuma all the more special.

 

 

 

 

 

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When an opportunity that's both crazy and dangerous (even by Old West standards) knocks, only a desperate man—such as one-legged rancher Dan Evans (Christian Bale)—would answer the door.

Evans and his family are barely surviving on their ranch after their black-hearted creditor cuts off their water supply and burns their barn. When Evans, a Civil War veteran, has a chance to pay off his debt he jumps at it, even though it means transporting captured outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) to the 3:10 train to Yuma (and jail), and finally bringing Wade to justice.

I'm glad Hollywood is long past its obsession with westerns, because it makes a film like 3:10 to Yuma all the more special. This story could have easily been updated and brought into the present day, but haven't we had enough good-versus-bad high-tech chase movies lately? Part of what makes 3:10 to Yuma so cool is the old-fashioned-ness of it. The characters (and the filmmakers, for that matter) have to rely on their wits and cunning to get things done.

In one of my favorite scenes, Wade and his crew of bandits are trying to rob a money-laden stagecoach manned by crusty old bounty hunter McElroy (Peter Fonda). Bullets are whizzing by the old man's head and the coach is surrounded on three sides, but McElroy is cool-headed enough to notice that one of Wade's men is carrying dynamite—and takes full advantage of a would-be threat. The result is more exciting than anything Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End threw at us.

3:10 to Yuma manages to meld character study and action film better than most movies. The action scenes are edge-of-your-seat good without anyone fighting atop a moving train as it heads into a tunnel. There are also enough quiet moments to break up the battles—moments where we get inside the characters' heads.

Bale and Crowe make for formidable onscreen enemies. Bale is perfect as a man who's a bit bitter, who seems to lack the confidence required to take on a known killer like Wade. He feels slightly trapped by his limitations, and he probably would have given up, if not for his need to keep his wife and sons housed, fed—and proud of him.

Crowe really is expertly villainous. He gives us everything we'd want in a movie bad guy: calm demeanor, a sense of humor, keen survival instinct, lethal hands and a sly mind. And yet, he's able to show us a cruel, selfish man who is not a cartoon villain. Crowe, for example, can slowly show us Wade's growing respect for Evans' bravery, despite being in way over his head.

The entire cast is good. Every gunslinger, criminal, sheriff and bank dick is perfect for the part given. Pay special attention, though, to Ben Foster as Wade's second-in-command, Charlie Prince. Unrecognizable from his most recent role as Angel in X-Men: The Last Stand, Foster is pure, crazy evil. And so much fun to watch. | Adrienne Jones

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