Westerns made their mark as a genre with shootouts, showdowns, and cowboys as mythical figures bringing justice and meaning to a chaotic barrenness hungry for shape. The Wild Wild West, a desert promising gold for the greedy, land for the hardworking, and oil for the thirsty is as much a character in westerns as the stoic heroes and the unshaven villains. 3:10 to Yuma puts two opposing forces together against the backdrop of the dry west in a morality play heading straight for that line drawn in between good and evil.
Dan Evans (Christian Bale) spends his nights protecting his farm from debtors threatening to burn it down. A Civil War vet who fought for the North, Evans is unloved by his wife (Gretchen Mol) and oldest child (Logan Lerman), the former who does it in the way she doesn’t look at him and the latter who shows it by the way he does. Evans lost his foot in the war, and his youngest child suffers from consumption — two circumstances that lead Evans to hold on tighter to his moral compass while questioning God. After Evans unwittingly helps the law catch notorious criminal Ben Wade (Russell Crowe), he signs up to deliver him to the titular train heading to Yuma.
Were it not for Crowe’s possessing of Wade’s role, this could have been a one-sided discussion leaning heavily towards Bale’s righteous cowboy. The quality of acting pairs two actors playing characters in a heated debate between selfish pleasure and selfless duty. Wade as a Bible-quoting killer tempts Evans into letting him go, but Evans hopes to leave a lasting legacy for his family that makes him the man he always dreamed to be. Both lend their ideas to the conversation about life, and the winner doesn’t come out alive.