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Crowe and Bale Saddle Up for the 3:10 to Yuma

Tae Andrews | Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Russell Crowe and Christian Bale cowboy up for “3:10 to Yuma,” a throwback Western with a modern feel to it. Like most Westerns, the plot in “3:10 to Yuma” remains fairly simple and straightforward: A local posse saddles up to send the notorious outlaw Ben Wade packing. Along the way they encounter danger from all sides in the free-for-all rough-and-tumble world of the wild west: the lethal Wade himself, Apache Indians, Wade’s hard-riding band of harriers, which remains hot on its heels to rescue its leader and a random Luke Wilson appearance.

Russell Crowe saunters through scene after scene with a sinister swagger as the legendary outlaw Ben Wade. The Bible-quoting, rough-riding rogue has a train to catch after local authorities apprehend him and plan to send him packing on the titular railroad ride to await trial. After tough-as-nails turns in 2000’s “Gladiator” and 2005’s “Cinderella Man,” Crowe shines again in a slightly different light as a charismatic, quick-on-the-draw gunslinger with a conscience, despite his claims to the contrary. Which isn’t to say he’s any less tough: The “man’s man” actor maintains a lethal gleam in his eye throughout the film, even when flashing his lazy Cheshire Cat grin.

Opposite Crowe in the frame and on the other side of the law, Christian Bale plays Dan Evans, a rancher missing a foot and running out of time to pay off his mounting debts. The career ne’er do well takes the job of accompanying the Wade posse for a paltry sum in order to save his farm and regain the respect of his wife and sons. Bale’s gaunt cheekbones have desperation written all over them, and he plays the part well.

“3:10 to Yuma” uses Crowe and Bale well as character foils. Evans is the desperate family man seeking to save home and hearth while trying to send Wade, a self-interested man concerned only with escaping so he can continue his marauding ways, to Yuma.

In a movie featuring the actor who played Batman versus the man who portrayed Maximus, what could have devolved into a testosterone fest ends up working well due to Bale’s performance. He doesn’t try to match Crowe’s tough-guy panache but instead sets himself up as a man with a world of things to prove. In other words, moviegoers will want to be Ben Wade, but they’ll feel for Dan Evans.

Logan Lerman also shines as William Evans, Dan’s son who runs away from home against his father’s orders and finds himself a member of the posse dedicated to putting away Wade. His obvious infatuation with Ben Wade’s rock star outlaw persona contrasts well with his father’s plain admonitions on hard work, integrity and how to be a man.

However, despite all the star power flashing back and forth onscreen between Bale and Crowe, actor Ben Foster steals the show as the vicious Charlie Prince, whose ruthless and psychotic misdeeds as Ben Wade’s second-in-command belie his baby blue eyes.

“3:10 to Yuma” lacks nothing in the action department, as there are quick draws, highway robberies and “this town ain’t big enough for the two of us” shoot ’em up shoot-outs galore.

Director James Mangold spurs the movie on by kicking it into an ever-faster gallop, ratcheting up the pace and the tension as the bodies pile up and the film boils down to the inevitable battle of wills between Dan Evans and Ben Wade in a race against time. The movie’s central theme of morality shifts as often as the swirling sands of the desert, and the only two things left standing in the end are Ben Wade and his thirst for freedom, and Dan Evans’ dogged determination to put him away and collect his paycheck. The pairing of Crowe and Bale’s talents, combined with Mangold’s direction and willingness to expend bucketfuls of bullet shells in the film’s action sequences, make “3:10 to Yuma” one of the most fun and entertaining movies of the year.