In James Mangold’s stark new western “3:10 to Yuma,” Dan Evans (Christian Bale) and his son William (Logan Lerman) must transport a prisoner Ben Wade (Russell Crowe), the notorious leader of an outlaw gang, to a prison train in order to collect a reward and save the Evans family farm. Wade’s gang, led by Ben Foster’s prissy yet sadistic Prince, engage in a a scorched-earth campaign to get their boss back at all costs. Evans and Wades journey takes them across a grim, pre-PC Old West that more closely resembles a dry, lifeless moonscape than the green vistas of travelogue-style oaters like the recent “Open Range.” There are no noble Native Americans here, only vicious “Injuns” who wait and watch in the darkness for their chance to steal and scalp.
Along the way, Wade repeatedly tries to bribe the simple farmer in order to gain his freedom. But Evans never accepts, because he didnâ€™t take on this mission just for the money. Evans’ troubled son has becomes increasingly seduced by the smoothly charismatic Wade. His father’s hard-scrabble farm life pales in comparison to Wade’s seductive tales of whiskey and women. Evans sets out to show his son that justice can survive, even in this hard, hopeless land. I realize this may seems trite, but Bale and Crowe’s amazing performances bring a credibility to the message.
While the journey they take is largely enjoyable, it sometimes feels broken up into disjointed episodes. Evans and Wade reach one place, fight, then narrowly escape. Again and again. Don’t get me wrong. The gunfights and horse chases are vintage Western fun, but sometimes Wade’s repeated escapes can feel a little numbing.
But the film’s greatest weakness is its unlikely ending, in which Wade makes a last minute about-face that completely strains credulity. This rosy ending is especially irritating, given that the rest of this film is so wonderfully bleak and gritty.