Note: This review contains some mild spoilers.
Gay villains are nothing new in American movies. Indeed, for decades that was the only sort of gay character that showed up with any regularity in mainstream films. Sure, those characters were not always explicitly stated to be gay – and certainly never allowed to be in a healthy same-sex relationship – but from their limp wrists to their swishy walks to their ogling of the very heterosexual hero after whom they secretly lusted, these characters were definitely intended to be perceived as gay.
The villains weren’t there as a nod to the gay community or to add diversity, of course. They were coded gay to heighten their wickedness and make it that much more satisfying for straight audiences when they met their usually violent death at the hands of the hero. After all, as Zack Snyder, director of 300, said about his movie’s version of the villainous god-king Xerxes, “'What's more scary to a 20-year-old boy than a giant god-king who wants to have his way with you?''
The new film 3:10 to Yuma delivers yet another coded gay villain to add to the already crowded pantheon. A remake of the 1957 film starring Glenn Ford, Russell Crowe plays the role of outlaw Ben Wade. Christian Bale co-stars as Dan Evans, the down on his luck Civil War veteran desperate enough to try to bring Wade to justice despite the near certainty he’ll die trying. And Ben Foster stars as Charlie Prince, Wade’s villainous henchman and second in command who oozes gay subtext.
To be perfectly clear, Foster’s part is actually rather small, so don’t expect GLAAD to issue a press release taking director James Mangold to task for denigrating the gay community. That being said, there is also no mistaking that Foster’s character is indeed coded as gay and is done so to make him even more unsettling to filmgoers since being a murderous sociopath apparently isn't bad enough.
When we first see Charlie Prince, he is astride his horse, one hand draped delicately over the other with the limpest wrist this side of the Mississippi river. He is by far the nattiest dresser in the entire cast, and if that isn’t mascara he’s wearing when we first meet him then I’m Buffalo Bill.
Foster’s casting tells us a great deal about what Mangold intended for the character. He is a slight man, probably best known as Angel in X-Men: The Last Stand and as Russell, Claire’s sexually ambiguous boyfriend in Six Feet Under. Macho isn’t a word likely to often be used in describing Foster.
Within the first five minutes of Prince’s appearance onscreen, one character refers to him as “missy” and “Charlie Princess,” a nickname usually not uttered to his face, but apparently widely used behind his back. Naturally, Prince is utterly ruthless, killing anyone who gets in his way, and showing no emotion at all – not unless he’s interacting with Ben Wade, who clearly makes Charlie swoon.
During a scene in a saloon, Prince accompanies Wade as he chats up Emmy (Vinessa Shaw), a barkeep whom he quickly beds. (After all, it wouldn’t do to have anyone suspecting that the very heterosexual Wade returns Prince’s feelings.) As Wade pitches woo at Emmy, Prince refuses to even look at her, except once to give her a look that clearly wouldn’t bode well for her long-term prospects if the movie included any real parts for women. Fortunately for Emmy, after bedding Wade, she vanishes.