Set in the dry climate of 19th century Arizona, 3:10 to Yuma is the story of a down-and-out farmer on the verge of losing his land due to shady antics from a rival land owner that he owes money to. The protagonist of the story, Dan Evans is a self-loathing family man who spends the whole movie attempting to prove to his son William, played by child star Logan Lerman, that he can be the hero that the boy reads about in pulp novels. Ben Wade, the thieving, murdering, womanizing bandit that's causing such a stir appears to have a soft side. He has charisma, he has a sense of morality, and he's an artist. Evans is hired by a railroad company to escort Wade to Contention where he will be placed on the 3:10 train to Yuma prison. Through a series of unfortunate events, including Wade's uncanny ability to suddenly have the mobility to kill some of his captors, Evans ends up being the only escort left to get the prisoner on the train. While in Contention, Wade's posse catches up and finds ways to make life very hard for Evans while waiting for the train. This is the part of the film that is supposed to show how each of the lead characters are deeper than you thought, but they just seem to leave a lot of unanswered questions.
Christian Bale convincingly played the part of Dan Evans. Bale has the incredible ability to seamlessly slink into any character thrown at him without the viewer questioning how he could possibly go from super-villain (American Psycho) to super-hero (Batman) and then to the Wild West. Bale will never suffer the dreaded issue of typecasting in Hollywood.
Russell Crow holds his own with his rendition of Ben Wade. He doesn't blend into the scenery quite as well, but Crow is certainly believable as the "jerk with a heart-of-gold." After all, that's the role he was born to play. Crow has the ability to have a twinkle in his eye while he blows the brains out of his cohorts in crime.
The minor characters were played well by an all-star cast including Peter Fonda as the weathered hired-hand, Byron McElroy and Alan Tudyk as the comic-relief, Doc Potter. Ben Foster outshined every one with his portrait of Ben Wade's overly enthusiastic right-hand man. Even young Lerner shows how torn the boy is about the love he has and contempt he feels for his father's ineffectual life-style.
Aside from being well cast, this movie left much to be desired. There was a definite homage to old, western style movie making in the way that it was a heavily character driven movie with a lot of grit and realistic backdrops. However, there was something about this film that always reminded you that this was just a movie. The characters themselves were one-dimensional, even though the story attempted to make them multi-layered. Many times throughout the film, it was easy to think, "Now, why would he do something like that?" The dialog seemed hollow and forced. The plot constantly fell into unbelievable scenarios by trying to convince you that the good guy and the bad guy were destined to be friends, even at the cost of long-standing loyalties from their pasts. The character development seemed heavy-handed, you were constantly being hit over the head with how 'good' the bad guy was. It was also glaringly obvious that Crow was very uncomfortable on a horse.
Although the acting of the entire cast was far above average, there is only so much one can do to make tasty omelets out of bad eggs.