Running roughshod over a very talented cast to the point that you nearly feel sorry for those in his warpath in between takes, Russell Crowe reaffirms in 3:10 to Yuma that, yes, he is probably the most imposing great actor of his generation.
A combination of Olivier and Robert Mitchum, Crowe has been the bull in the china shop many times before, most notably as Lt. Bud Black in L.A. Confidential and as the flawed but noble leader of men, Maximus, in Gladiator. The Australian is capable of overpowering a bad film and transforming a good one into something great.
And for the first time in years, Crowe takes his inhuman intensity to the wrong side of the tracks, portraying soulless, calloused gunfighter Ben Wade, whose heart is as black as the barrel of his gun. He runs into the Pinkerton detectives while marauding a small Arizona town, and unimpressive rancher Dan Evans (Christian Bale), desperate for money to feed and care for his family, agrees to help transport Wade to the nearest city with a train station, where the outlaw would await passage to the federal prison in Yuma.
The battle of wills between Evans and Wade takes a back seat to the battle of styles between Bale and Crowe, two of the better character actors who have become reliable leading men, but go about their business in entirely different ways. Where Bale almost exclusively is better working from the inside out, Crowe is at his best when his presence cannot be contained.
Director James Mangold (Walk the Line), wisely recognizing that his lead actors can’t just have a two-hour showdown (otherwise the audience would be exhausted), has surrounded them with wonderfully memorable performances first and foremost by Ben Foster as Ben Wade’s demonic understudy and 15-year-old Logan Lerman as Evans’ son, and secondarily with nice character work by Peter Fonda, Alan Tudyk, and Gretchen Mol.
A remake of sorts of the 1957 film of the same name, the writers and Mangold have gone back more to Elmore Leonard’s original story as a blueprint and have worked, quite successfully, to create 3:10 to Yuma as a western that feels desperate and desolate, the only kind of western that works in a genre so inherently informed by Clint Eastwood’s The Unforgiven that anything since has to play by the rules of William Munny and the dark nature of that film.
Crisp, clean shirts with consciences to match don’t fit in the new definitions of the genre, and Mangold knows it, Bale knows it and Crowe exemplifies it, giving his best performance in a decade.
3:10 to Yuma
Starring Christian Bale, Russell Crowe and Ben Foster
Directed by James Mangold
Opens September 7, 2007