Dir: James Mangold US . 2007. 117mins
The western has become the most unfashionable of genres, with a reputation for box-office poison that persists despite the relatively recent success of Open Range (2003). The fiftieth anniversary remake of 3:10 To Yuma is sturdy enough to withstand the jinx. Handsomely crafted, it represents a largely successful fusion of old-style storytelling virtues with a modern Hollywood ethos in which action speaks louder than words.
Audiences should welcome Russell Crowe's return to a role that is a much more comfortable fit than his tally-ho cad in the misfire, A Good Year. The added marquee value of Christian Bale, the film's novelty and the prospect of generally positive reviews should all combine to position 3:10 To Yuma as a solid Autumn performer with an appeal that tilts more towards an older demographic.
Less widely remembered than High Noon (1952) or Rio Bravo (1959), 3:10 To Yuma (1957) is still one of the great westerns of the 1950s; a taut, tensely handled account of the mutual respect that develops between a ruthless outlaw (Glenn Ford) and the decent, hard-working rancher (Van Heflin) determined to deliver him to justice. The new version revisits the basic Elmore Leonard story but opens it out and embellishes it, significantly upping the gunplay and expanding the back-story. The result may be more tailored towards the supposed requirements of a modern audience but the whiplash tension of the original is lost a little in the translation.
A one-legged Civil War veteran, Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is now struggling to provide a living for his wife Alice (Gretchen Moll) and their two sons. It seems only a matter of time before the bank forecloses and they will have to abandon their farm. Dan is in the wrong place at the wrong time when outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) and his gang pull off another daring stagecoach robbery that leaves Pinkerton bounty hunter McElroy (Peter Fonda) badly wounded.
When Wade is subsequently captured, the desperate Dan accepts $200 to join a group that will deliver Wade on to the 3: 10 train to Yuma prison. All they have to do is outsmart Wade's vicious gang, survive the wrath of renegade Apaches and face a whole army of people who would rather see Wade dead than sent to jail.
3: 10 To Yuma boasts several scenes, including the stagecoach robbery, that offer a rousing reminder of the adrenaline kick that a good western can provide. The thundering hooves, blazing guns and jangling, Morricone-style soundtrack will lift the spirits of any genre fan. The film falters by fracturing the intense focus of the original. The weight given to McElroy and Dan's teenage son Will (Logan Lerman) act as a distraction from the mind games between the philosophical, Bible-quoting Wade and the grimly resolute Dan.
The film is well-acted with Russell Crowe bringing a wry, roguish charm to the role of a man who takes what he wants and lives with the consequences. Christian Bale is earnest and understated. It is entirely believable that Dan would envy Ben's bravado and that Ben would grow to admire Dan's quiet heroism.
Ben Foster lends a typical, scene-stealing intensity to the role of Wade's trigger happy sidekick Charlie Prince and if there appears to be something of Clint Eastwood in Peter Fonda's performance then Logan Lerman has the look and ability of a young River Phoenix.
Director James Mangold and producer Cathy Konrad, the team behind the Oscar-winning Walk The Line (2005) seem to lack faith that an audience can be held spellbound purely by the developing relationship between Dan and Will. Consequently, there is an emphasis on action in the helter-skelter finale that may stretch credibility beyond breaking point for some audiences.
Tree Line Films
Stuart M. Besser
based on a short story by Elmore Leonard