Hop aboard this old western remake where director James Mangold walks the line between dark and light in a wonderfully filmed tale of redemption. Yes, groan, another remake of a classic Hollywood film, but Mangold adds thirty minutes and a whole new dimension to the original, which, let’s face it, only crazy Elmore Leonard fans have actually seen.
After losing his leg and his self-respect to the Civil War, rancher Dan Evans (Christian Bale) struggles to provide for his family during a three-year draught. When the old-west equivalent of a loan shark sets Dan’s barn ablaze, Dan’s passive reaction only helps whittle away the little faith that his wife (Gretchen Mol) and eldest son Will (Logan Loerman) have left in him. Meanwhile, the notorious robber Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) ruthlessly holds up a Pinkerton payroll coach intended for the Southern Pacific railroad. Though the gang is halfway to Mexico with their payload, Wade’s weakness for women leads to his capture. Rather than hang him on the spot, railroad representative Grayson Butterfield (Dallas Roberts) decides to make an example of Wade and recruits a team to escort him to Contention for the 3:10 train to the federal prison at Yuma. Dan volunteers to join the motley crew for a two hundred dollar payoff, alongside jaded bounty hunter Byron (Peter Fonda), a bumbling veterinarian (Alan Tudyk), and three other lawmen who don’t make it past the first act thanks to Wade’s wily ways.
Even in handcuffs with several shotguns trained on him, Wade holds the power over his captors, manipulating their weaknesses to incite mistakes. The journey is fraught with tension for Dan in particular, who sees the truth in Wade’s taunts that he can’t protect his family, especially when Will has to come to his rescue. Meanwhile, as the group traverses dangerous terrain, they fear ambush by Wade’s gang and the psychotic Charlie Prince (Ben Foster), or from posses eager to take Wade out themselves. But when the three-day journey brings dangers uniting captors and captive, Dan and Wade learn that nothing is black and white when it comes to heroes and villains.
3:10 to Yuma had me at hello when it pitted Christian Bale against Russell Crowe, two of the most intense actors in Hollywood. I anticipated a showdown as nerve-wracking as the finale of Tombstone at the OK Corral, and for the most part, I was satisfied. The plot is as exciting as it is complex, bringing a new level to the typical western by clouding the moral centers of the protagonists. But the writers went a little far in their attempt to give greater depth to the story, and the final act pushes the limits of plausibility as characters act without proper motive.
Even with a slightly disappointing finale, the film drives itself forward with outstanding performances throughout. Christian Bale positively smolders as the pent-up Dan, only his character sadly remains as lame as his leg the entire film. Fortunately, Russell Crowe puts enough “bad ass” in the film for the both of them. Not since Virtuosity have we seen Crowe play the villain and like Crowe’s Sid 617, there’s something deliciously enjoyable about Ben Wade despite his violent tendencies. While we’d expect nothing but the best from Crowe and Bale, what’s most impressive here are the supporting roles. From Foster’s absolutely chilling villain, to Fonda’s gruff cowboy, all the way down to a bit part played by an out-of-character Luke Wilson, each side character gives the film a gritty, authentic feel that pays tribute to classic Westerns while still reinventing the genre.
3:10 to Yuma is likely to do to this era what Tombstone did for the 90’s, and Young Guns did for the 80’s, resurrecting interest in Westerns through memorable characters like Billy the Kid, Doc Holliday and now, Ben Wade. Not quite as quotable as its predecessors, with less comic relief and forward momentum, 3:10 to Yuma is a darker, more emotional Western that gives the genre more heart but loses a bit of its soul in the process.