Cast Russell Crowe, Christian Bale and Ben Foster in any movie together, and I’m a happy camper. In “3:10 to Yuma,” their performances not only help revitalize the Western genre but also deserve to be remembered come movie award season.
Underplaying his role as an enigmatic bad guy who may -- or may not -- have a streak of goodness in him, Crowe is absolutely spellbinding, but Bale’s more outwardly dramatic turn as a destitute farmer who needs money to save his family comes across as equally fascinating. And Foster simply tears up the screen with his portrayal of Crowe’s shoot-everything-that-moves top henchman.
Like most Westerns, the plot of “3:10 to Yuma” doesn’t take much brain power to follow. After outlaw Ben Wade (Crowe) is captured, Dan Evans (Bale) signs on as one of the men escorting him to the prison train. He reluctantly leaves his wife (Gretchen Mol) and two sons to go on this dangerous mission. However, the older son (Logan Lerman) has a mind of his own. Meanwhile, Ben’s gang is hellbent on freeing their leader. Suspense builds as most of Ben’s escorts bite the dust, leaving Dan with a major decision to make. Should he let the criminal go or finish the job he accepted? Like Gary Cooper’s character in “High Noon,” Dan realizes the serious consequences of accepting his moral duty.
The most intriguing aspect of this excellent Western -- a remake of the 1957 film starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin -- involves the strange bonding that takes place between its two main characters. Crowe and Bale simply couldn’t be better in their scenes together. They make us believe how different these men are -- and yet how much they begin to like each other as they spend time in various conversations on the way to Yuma as well as in the hotel waiting for the prison train.
Crowe endows Ben with a charm that sneaks up on you through little smiles, soft-spoken comments, and unexpected humor, but he’s also a man who turns violent in the blink of an eye, and Crowe manages that change very convincingly. On the other hand, Bale displays the most tension, evoking our sympathy for his character’s nagging sense of failure and desire to be someone his family can be proud of. Watching these two splendid actors interact is something I won’t soon forget.
Nor will I forget Foster’s bad-to-the-bone Charlie. Yes, this character may be loyal to his boss, but even Ben can’t stand him. Still, just try taking your eyes off Charlie when he’s on screen! Foster is rapidly becoming the go-to guy for filmmakers who need someone for a lunatic role like this (see “Hostage” and “Alpha Dog”).
Kudos to director James Mangold (“Walk the Line”) and crew for not letting anything stand in the way of the outstanding performances here. Of course, there are shots of gorgeous Western scenery and the background music sets an appropriate tone for what’s happening. But, thankfully, no pretentious or jerky camera work spoils our enjoyment of this impressive remake.
(Released by Lionsgate and rated “R” for violence and some language.)
Review originally posted on ReelTalkReviews.com.