Reviewer: Charity Bishop
It's been a long time since anyone made a great western. Hollywood was known for them when such iconic stars as Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne rode across the big screen. I went into this remake expecting the usual rubbish and was surprised; this is a rarity in modern times -- it's a great western.
Every father wants to be a hero in the eyes of his child. Would-be cattle rancher Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is no exception. Unfortunately, his impetuous son William (Logan Lerman) has no respect for him, and their most recent point of contention comes when the loan sharks Dan has been borrowing from in order to keep his place afloat come calling and burn down the barn. Either he pays up in short order, or it'll be the house next. Disheartened and knowing he'll lose everything, he and his boys set out to round up their cattle... and witness something that changes their lives forever: the robbery of the stagecoach. The attack is led by the infamous Ben Wade (Russell Crowe), a gun slinging outlaw with an impressive reputation that includes multiple murders and hold-ups. But this time he pushes his luck a little too much and is taken into custody in town, while his "boys" escape out back.
The intention of the Pinkerton detective on the case is to put Wade on the 3:10 train to Yuma prison... but they have to get him there first. It's a long journey across Indian-infested territory, with the full knowledge that Wade's posse, led in his absence by the ruthless Charlie Prince (Ben Foster), will be intent on rescuing him. Desperate both to save his land and recover the respect of his son, Dan volunteers to go along as a hired gun. Little does he realize what he's in for, because in addition to bloodthirsty Apaches, fatal accidents and escape attempts, Wade is known for his unnerving charm and calculating plans. And even if they make it to Yuma, they still have to wait for the train.
Westerns aren't my favorite thing in the world, but I make an exception for this one. It's superb. It has a solid, tight script with actual character development, intense dialogue, truly terrific actors (other notable ones show up in cameos throughout), and an unusual friendship at its heart that forms between two men so different in so many ways yet that understand one another on a deeper level. The character of Wade is ingenious; one moment he's all charm and smiles and the next he's throttling someone or calmly throwing them off a cliff. Even though he is hard to put your finger on, you know what will happen toward the end because you start understanding him along with Evans. Crowe and Bale are incredible together; they have an on-screen chemistry that is rare these days, and it was a pure delight for me to see two such talented actors at the top of their game.
Audiences considering spending time with this film should know going in that in the true style of great classic westerns, sacrifices are made; people are killed, at times people we have grown fond of, but the story is ultimately all about integrity, which something we're severely lacking in the modern age. Evans undertakes a job and is determined to stick to it, because he gave his word -- even when it means he could die and even when he's offered ten times the promised amount if he'll just walk away. He never goes back on his word, and it is this that makes the biggest impact on his son. He accomplishes far more than he intended to and also earns respect from Wade that wouldn't have been offered if he'd been bought off or given in. That was what so impressed me about it; this isn't just a shoot-em-up western but it had a moral core to it, and depth beyond being a superficial action film.
Where this movie stands on religion is uncertain; it toes the line and is ambiguous about its conclusions but it does remind audiences that real integrity is doing what is right even though it may not be easy and might cost you your life. Some Christians object to the faith shown in the film, but I see it as the difference between those who profess faith and those who follow it; Evans arguably becomes a Christ-figure to Wade, and changes his life forever. The final ten minutes are the most action-packed and profound in many ways, and even though it has an unexpected twist that some may not welcome, it does what few movies can do: share a deeper truth without preaching.
It's implied that Wade sleeps with a prostitute; he is shown drawing a picture of her afterward (the drawing contains partial backside nudity, but we never see it on his subject). References are made to prostitutes.
Jesus' name is abused several times; GD is used more than a dozen times, along with general profanities and vulgarities.
Lots of men are shot and killed, with bloody results. Wade shoots one man at close range in the head; he stabs another repeatedly in the throat with a fork; he stomps on a man's face to knock him unconscious; he beats someone up and throws him off a cliff. Wade is tortured by an electrical device.
Alcohol consumption. Wade carries around a gun with a crucifix on it that he calls "The Hand of God." He quotes scripture and calls out others on hypercritical lifestyles (justifying murder and cruelty but professing faith).