It's a wonderful thing to begin watching a movie with absolutely no expectations and be pleasantly surprised. That is, to watch a movie and not have a clue about the story, the genre, the critic's reviews, not even a clue as to what the title means. That's how I experienced 3:10 to Yuma, and I was more than just pleasantly surprised.
3:10 to Yuma is good. I mean, like, really good. As in, I was blown away.
As it turns out, the movie's title refers to a train. Rancher Dan Evans (Christian Bale) heads to town to clear up issues concerning his land when he witnesses a stagecoach robbery lead by famous outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe). Wade is soon arrested and Evans volunteers on a dangerous mission to escort Wade to the 3:10 to Yuma train in the town of Contention for a $200 reward.
Aside from needing the reward money to save his land, Evans' quest to take Wade to the station also is part of his struggle to be more than a bit of a naive loser in the eyes of his family, especially his brash son William. Towards the beginning of the film Dan tells his son "Someday, William, you walk in my shoes, you might understand". To which William retorts "I ain't ever walkin' in your shoes". Later on when his wife tried to dissuade him from taking on the dangerous mission, she says no one will think less of him if he changes his mind-- he replies that no one can think less of him. One of the things that would motivate any man to do the irrational is to sense that his own family has stopped believing in him.
Evans isn't really a loser, it's just that he's a guy who hasn't won very much in his life. He's earnest, works hard for his family, and believes in the rule of law. The world would be a better place if more people would get into that mindset. Trouble is when you're dealt the misfortune of associating with people who don't believe in the rule of law. Naivety which is the result of a wrong mixture of idealism, humility, and a splash of bad luck.
Ben Wade, on the other hand, seems on the surface to be the polar opposite of a naive but honest man. He's the confident and charming head of an infamous band of outlaws, striding in and out of towns untouched. Oh, he's been captured and sent to jail a few times, but he just escapes all over again. Yet there's something about him-- a sort of boredom in the way he effortlessly commands his band of crooks. He has an intelligence that pours forth naturally in his words, and you know that a guy with this level of depth can't be all bad.
The great thing about how these personalities play out in the movie is that it isn't spelled out for you, and it doesn't have to be. The characters are painted gradually, in delicate strokes that reveal themselves through the deliciously crafted dialogue, and the beautifully shaded performances from two of the best actors in the world.
The events that transpire in the movie's climactic ending, which I will not give away, present a conclusion that seems a mixture of both happy or sad, but really transcends both. It's unexpected, thought provoking, and, at least to me, ultimately satisfying.