A retelling of an old Western, 3:10 to Yuma follows a down-on-his-luck pioneer father named Dan (Christian Bale) who accepts a gig helping some lawmen escort a hardened criminal (Russell Crowe) across the desert to a train bound for his hanging. Of course, outlaw Ben Wade has a whole gang of bloodthirsty followers who are dead set on helping him escape. Fraught by health, financial, and family woes, Dan doesn’t see any choice but to try to follow through with this hopeless mission, even though it means putting his own life in danger and ultimately that of his son, who has seemed to develop a fascination with the gang leader.
This movie had a most promising setup, gorgeous cinematography, and Russell Crowe, but unfortunately it fell flat for me. I felt it tried to be too many things, leading to some strange plot holes and characters that were more flakey than dimensional. We are supposed to empathize with Crowe’s character… I think… but the screenwriters could not seem to make up their minds whether he was an amoral psycho or a misunderstood pirate with a heart of gold. Even an antihero has to have some consistency. Meanwhile, the other characters are scarcely likeable, except for Dan whom we pity and the doctor who affords the only real laughs in his all-too-brief appearance.
Speaking of which, this is a very gloomy film. While I applaud the filmmakers for not stretching the R rating to its utmost (especially in the romance area), still it is full of gruesome, bloody killings and very little light to provide a foil to the dark. Ben Wade is constantly preaching to others about how to live life and how hypocritical the “good guys” are, which could have been interesting if it had been fleshed out. With all tell and very little show on this front, his ramblings make the movie feel long-winded instead of profound and his character tedious instead of intriguing. I really wanted to like it, but I found myself just wanting certain characters to die and the whole thing be over with, which isn’t a very pleasant viewing experience. 2 out of 5 stars.
A postscript on the visuals—I was very impressed with the location filming and the costume/set design. If you just want to see some Western eye candy, then you could do worse. I’m not sure if I would call it authentic, but it is a highly stylized type of Western genre imagery, with an attempt at detail that I appreciate about costume dramas from the mid-2000s.