What makes a man a man? In the midst of all the gunfights, barn burning, and stagecoach robbing, this is the question that 3:10 to Yuma (rated R for violence and language), like so many classic Westerns, poses. While the film features a few modern flourishes to engage attention-challenged audiences, its answer remains surprisingly the same.
From the outset, we are given two models of masculinity. The rakish and charming Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) is an outlaw who takes what he wants from life-money, women, and lives-without regard to conscience or consequence. Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is Wade's physical and psychological opposite. A crippled Civil War veteran trying desperately to save his farm, Dan fears that his inability to provide is turning him into something less than a man in the eyes of his family. But he refuses to let his woes drive him to sin, and during the worst of his troubles he turns to prayer.
The two men's paths cross after Ben's gang raids an armored wagon carrying the fortunes of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Once Ben is apprehended, a railroad representative calls for volunteers to escort the legendary bandit to Yuma. Dan accepts the job not only because he needs the money but also, he says, because he is tired-tired of the way his son (Logan Lerman) looks at him and tired of the way his wife doesn't. "No one will think less of you," she says, pleading with him not to go. "No one can think less of me," he snaps back. But as the action progresses, we see that it isn't just cash propelling Dan, but a chance to teach his son the meaning of integrity.
With its great acting, great pacing, and crackerjack storyline, Yuma is not only fun, it is surprisingly moral. In many films today (think Pulp Fiction, Scarface, or nearly every mafia movie made in the last two decades) Ben Wade would be the hero. Even our Westerns tend to celebrate outlaws rather than the men who bring them to justice. And when filmmakers aren't outright cheering the bad guys, they're giving them a postmodern shrug. Perhaps this is why, even though Yuma's style is old, its sentiments feel fresh.