3:10 to Yuma is essentially the Western equivalent of a road movie. One or more characters needs to get from A to B, and what happens to them en route is more important than B itself. In this case, Bale plays struggling landowner Dan Evans, who agrees to take outlaw Ben Wade (Crowe) from Bisby to Contention to put him on the prison train to Yuma. Dan wants to improve his standing in his son's eyes, and the reward money will certainly come in handy, so along with a small posse, away they go. On the way, they have to face in-fighting, Apaches, and the threat of Ben's gang catching up with them.
The first time I saw 3:10 to Yuma, I wasn't sure what to make of it. For one thing, Ben is far more charismatic than Dan, and Crowe pretty much acts Bale off the screen. He might be an outlaw, but Ben just seems the more interesting of the two. There's depth to this particular wrongdoer, while Dan almost seems to be a caricature of a broken man. Besides, Ben steps in to defend the group when they come under attack, making him into less of an evil outlaw and more of a lovable rogue. Dan's backstory seems hastily sketched in, while Ben's is unravelled slowly, building a stronger picture of the man. Poor writing or just a difference in acting styles? I have no idea but sufficeth to say, Dan only becomes interesting in the last third or so of the film. Ben's interesting the whole way through.
That's not to say it's a bad film. It's not - I really like it on many levels. The soundtrack is perfect, and the attention to period detail makes this feel like more of a Western than earlier films. I think this is one of the reasons why I prefer the later Westerns - the earlier ones almost feel like cartoons, full of stock characters and mythologising, whereas the later ones feel like they've been researched well, and come more under the heading of historical drama. That's not to say this isn't a 'proper' Western - it's got ranchers, outlaws, angry Apaches, railroads and towns with names like Contention. Plus it's set against the epic backdrop of Arizona - what's not to like?
The soundtrack was a big influence while I was writing The Guns of Retribution, so 3:10 to Yuma will always hold a special place for me. Anyway, I'll leave you with this clip, which is Ben's robbery of the stagecoach that kicks everything off...