Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Black Crowe: Thoughts on 3:10 to Yuma (Part 2)

If Christian Bale's character in 3:10 to Yuma marks a pointedly different type of Western Hero, then Russell Crowe adds to the revolutionary status of this film by his portrayal of the complex villain.

As the movie begins we see a very sensitive, if somewhat dastardly Ben Wade (Crowe). He desires a female companion, for more than just physical pleasure, and he appreciates good cowboys (so he lets Peter Fonda's character live in the opening scene). But it is not long before we see just how evil he is. In the mere setting of a sun Ben Wade changes from nice guy, to sadistic murderer as he stabs a sleeping man to death with nothing but a kitchen fork. He is a dangerous man!

It is this interplay between pure evil and simply sweet guy down on his luck that makes Wade so compelling, and of course Russel Crowe pulls it off with ease. The end of the movie only reinvigorates this mixture and compels us as the viewers to both like Wade and hate him at the same time.

My co-host on Christ & Pop-Culture discussed this recently in a podcast we did, and came to the conclusion that what makes Wade so interesting as a character is the that he reminds us of another deceptive villain: Satan. The Bible teaches us that Satan can clothe himself like an angel of light and he can compel the unwitting person to trust him. We know Eve, even in a perfect state, fell for his ploys. Ben Wade not only disarms men and women, but he disarms us at points. He is a truly deceptive villain. Yet there is something more to this character.

For While Wade does throughout the movie show himself to be a "devil" of a man, there is real growth, development, and change. His character goes through several major turning points in the plot and comes out on the other side quite different than anyone could expect. This is what makes Wade so compelling of a character: the sheer spectrum of change that he goes through. Now there have been plenty of movies with good character dynamism and growth, even many where villains go through these changes, but none that are so seamless, and unexpected as 3:10 to Yuma, for in the end of this film we are still left with some elements of the unexpected, and ultimately with a question: Is Ben Wade a good guy or a bad guy? Few movies have that capacity to bring a character through such change and in the end leave us where we started...a man who is either really good, or has yet once again deceived us all.

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