‘3:10 to Yuma’ classic good guy, bad guy Western

Ellis Wells

The impoverished rancher, Dan Evans (Christian Bale), has one week to earn $200 or his ranch and land will be taken from him by the local land baron.

Then there is Ben Wade (Russell Crowe), who, after robbing a bank carriage, is captured in the town tavern by bounty hunter Byron McElroy (Peter Fonda).

To earn his $200, Dan Evans joins McElroy, Grayson Butterfield (Dallas Roberts) and Doc Potter (Alan Tudyk) in escorting Wade across the desert to make the 3:10 train to a jail in Yuma. But lying in wait in the desert is Wade’s gang, who have no intention of allowing their beloved leader to be taken to jail. There is no negotiation; no compromise.

A remake of the black-and-white 1957 movie of the same name, this version is carried by strong performances from the whole cast.

The story itself is relatively simplistic, more of a necessary device to force Christian Bale and Russell Crowe in conflict with one another. Once these two actors get together, the screen crackles. In some sense, this is a buddy movie. While both characters are rivals, and will always be on opposite sides of the tracks, they form an uneasy friendship that at times can be heart-warming. And much like “The Prestige” (also starring Bale), you can easily be torn between who you want to win: the good guy or the lovable bad guy.

While both characters are far more complex than that analogy, at the end of the day, someone has to win and someone has to lose. Whoever it is will break your heart.

In Ben Wade we get a new anti-hero for the movie screen. He’s the ultimate gunslinger and cold-blooded murderer, whose mind games can rival even those of Hannibal Lecter. With every woman he meets, he chases down the memory of a woman he once met who had the greenest eyes he’d ever seen. To him, every woman is just a pale shadow of his beloved, and yet he uses them all the same. Crowe is so magnificently charismatic; it’s hard to believe this is the same violent drunk who consistently makes headlines for throwing punches and starting bar brawls. That aside, you must tip your hat to him for his work in this movie. Not since Maximus in “Gladiator” has his on-screen presence been so awe-inspiring, and any moment he is absent puts want in your heart.

And now the obligatory comparison on how this movie stacks up against other movies in the Western genre. While it is by no means in the same caliber of Clint Eastwood’s masterpiece “Unforgiven,” it does deserve to stand up there beside the likes of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

Like all great Westerns, the story starts off slow, gaining momentum, building to a final showdown that you know is coming.

And it is at the end that this movie soars. The crowning achievement of this film where sweeping music, picturesque scenery and first-rate acting all collide. It is pure gold.

Best scene: In an inn near the train station, Dan and Wade’s confrontation comes to a head. With reason, logic and cold calculation, Wade seduces Dan with hard cash, offering him $1,000 to just let him go. Christian Bale conveys so much with his eyes, thoroughly tempted by Wade’s offer, and truly debating whether to take the deal. As he tries to refute it, you know deep down he’s begging Wade to convince him further, to push him far enough so he’ll take the money.

Best performance: Charlie Prince (Ben Foster) steals the show. As second in command to Ben Wade, Charlie is fierce in his loyalty and almost obsessed with saving his boss. Foster is such a magnificent villain. Wielding duel pistols, sporting a gorgeously devilish white leather waistcoat and killing every single person who gets in his way, this is the guy you love to hate. When he raises his blue eyes from under the brim of his hat, you know someone’s about to die.

Overall: The best Western since “Open Range,” and very much a character movie driven forward by the acting rather than explosions and body counts. Not too gory, not too violent, walking a perfect line between dramatic tension and quick wit.