This movie starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale sits smack dab in the middle of western by definition. This genre has been struggling to stay afloat for twenty years or more but thankfully to movies such as this, the genre still lives and breathes.
Christian Bale plays Dan Evans, an almost down and out rancher struggling to provide for his family. Ben Wade (Crowe) is a murderous bandit who after a routine robbery finds himself in a tight spot. Things heat up when the two characters from different worlds find their paths intertwined. Don’t get too excited because the ‘heat up’ is not ‘Die hard’ paced-remember this is a western. There’s riding, limited dialogue, gun play and a sweet gradual build like only the western can bring.
Bale is our humble rancher on the brink having his family tossed his property on their ear…or cowboy hat. He’s got a wife whose faith in him is precarious, a youngest son with an illness and an older son who doesn’t respect him. Please note that a family’s respect is a big deal during western times-today ah, maybe not so much. As head of the household he makes a desperate and dangerous choice to save his family. Evans’ desperate play causes him to escort outlaw Wade to a certain prisoner train. Can you guess what time it pulls into the station?
The performances by the two lead actors are stellar, as we would expect. The people’s favorite will no doubt be Russell’s Ben Wade, for who doesn’t love a good bad guy. Let’s face it, we know that in life Crowe is a bad boy-remember a certain phone to a certain concierge’s head? The academy award winner can pretty much do it all and bad boy is easy for him. But don’t count Bale out. Playing the somewhat pathetic character makes it difficult to gain a cheering section from the audience. Bale achieves this. In fact, he brings the ‘heart strings’ element to the story. Ben Wade’s gang spends most of the movie attempting to rescue Wade. Wade seems calm, even smug like a true master and commander and why not: his gang is good at what they do…not too mention Wade could be classified as a psychopath.
But there is a new up and coming great actor in town and his name is Logan Lerman. He plays Evans’ headstrong son; a fourteen year boy who can shoot and ride as good as any man. Unfortunately for Evans his son is also on a runaway train to growing up too fast-ville. This young actor not only holds his own amongst these great actors, but he manages to steal the occasional scene as well. His character has his dad’s back but sometimes only to the point so that he might see what kind of mettle his father is made of. It is a complex life role that many teenage boys have found themselves in since the beginning of time and Logan plays the part like a concert pianist plays a Steinway piano. Lerman decided to get into the business at age two and a half after seeing a Jackie Chan movie. His first big role was playing Mel Gibson’s youngest son in The Patriot. The kid has chops, I kid (no pun intended) you not. If he manages to navigate the transition from teen actor to grown up actor we will all be the richer for it.
310 to Yuma may not be Shane, Silverado, or The Unforgiven but if you are planning to hit the couch with a western double feature, ‘Yuma’ should at least make number two on your rental list. As the western continues to fight extinction this film will ensure that six shooter gunslinger flicks with horses, tin stars and cowboy boots continue to occupy shelf space at our local video stores.