When It first was announced that there was going to be a remake of 3:10 to Yuma, it seemed like a really bad idea. 3:10 to Yuma was a very good western... in 1957. But in 2007 the western genre seemed comatose.
There were a few spasms in the last 15 years since Clint Eastwood buried the genre with Unforgiven (1992), which won the Academy Award for Best Picture. But only a few. The best was Kevin Costner's Open Range (2003), but it was uneven fool's gold, marked by mud, good action, and corny dialogue.
There seemed to be no upside to remaking a movie from 50 years ago. But never underestimate Russell Crowe. Or Christian Bale. Or director James Mangold.
3:10 to Yuma is a big, brawling action-adventure with strong psychological elements. The original 3:10 to Yuma, with Glenn Ford and Van Heflin, directed by Delmer Daves, was a psychological western, and the present version expands on that.
Like many westerns, 3:10 to Yuma is a moral tale. It is about good versus evil, and the inroads of "civilization" into the western frontier. It's the story of rancher Dan Evans (Christian Bale) who is down on his luck and faces the loss of his homestead. He already has lost the respect of his teenage son Will (Logan Lerman). His wife Alice (Gretchen Mol) and younger son Mark (Benjamin Petry) are unsettled and anxious about the foreboding future. He is in desperate straits. Evans is a decent man, but decency seems to have little value in the violent West.
When notorious outlaw Ben Wade (Crowe) is captured, Evans agrees for $200 to help take Wade to the town of Contention and put him on the train to Yuma State Prison.
The arduous trip and stay in a hotel under siege is fraught with danger and dread as Wade's brutal gang pursues them and greed and human nature threaten them.
Much of the original movie was set in the hotel where the outlaw and rancher were held up waiting for the train to come.
The remake of 3:10 to Yuma opens it up. It is 120 minutes, where the original only was 92 minutes. The extra 28 minutes is bursting with shoot 'em up action.
Mangold brings a new style to the remake. It's full of close-ups to give a feeling of the Old West -- leather and leathery faces. But the bullets, explosions, and pell mell bodies take a back saddle to the intriguing relationship between the dogged rancher and the canny outlaw.
Slowly they come to understand one another and themselves.
Russell Crowe is a marvelous actor -- a master at exploring the edgy, unpredictable humanity of Ben Wade. He may well be the best actor in films today. It is hard to imagine an actor doing more with the character. He is intelligence at work.
Christian Bale has a less flashy role, but he and Crowe give the movie its credibility.
The fact that Crowe and Bale achieve credibility is crucial, because the audience has to suspend their disbelief and accept a plot that is over-the-top, and action that is mind-boggling. But Crowe and Bale earn our trust, and we're able to transcend the gaps in logic that are as big as the range.
Ben Foster, as a vicious member of Wade's gang, is evil incarnate in a juicy role that he gulps with zest. Foster played Angel in X-Men: the Last Stand. Now he is Devil.
Peter Fonda looks older than his dad ever did as bounty hunter Byron McElroy.
Michael Brandt and Derek Haas are able to update Halsted Welles's screenplay, which is an adaptation of a short story by Elmore Leonard. They add cleverness and freshness to the dialogue.
Mangold, who directed Walk the Line, is able to create high-powered suspense and invigorates a somnolent western genre. But it is Russell Crowe who keeps it alive and kicking. He is a hell of an outlaw.
For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).
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