Russell Crowe and Christian Bale engage in a battle of wits and gunplay in James Mangold's western remake

3:10 to Yuma

on September 07, 2007 by Annlee Ellingson
In each successive incarnation of 3:10 to Yuma , the journey to meet the titular train has been lengthened and the relationship between the two key characters—an outlaw and the man bringing him to justice—deepened. In Elmore Leonard's short story, originally published in 1953 in Dime Western Magazine, a deputy marshal arrives in the aptly named Contention with his charge, waits for the appointed time in a hotel room and dodges a shootout to get him on the locomotive. In the 1953 black-and-white western starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin, brigand Ben Wade is apprehended shortly after a stagecoach robbery with help from struggling rancher Dan Evans, who volunteers to escort Wade to Contention in exchange for the $200 that will save his land. Again, gunplay with Wade's band of thugs ensues.

In both, to increasing degree, the black hat's charm and easy wealth conflicts with the white hat's stoic morality and honor, but neither as much as in James Mangold's update. Unfortunately, here the effort to complicate their interaction even further, however, risks implausibility in the final moments—an unfortunate consequence of the very fine work that has gone before.

Evans (Christian Bale) is a Civil War vet amputee, forced to move to the dry climate for the health of his sickly younger son and rapidly losing the respect of 14-year-old William (Logan Lerman). Out rounding up their cattle one day, the trio encounters a vicious scene of theft and violence by Wade's gang. The bandit (Russell Crowe) seizes their horses but treats them fairly, promising to leave their animals outside the nearby town of Bisbee.

Later, Wade is arrested, but, with his band lurking like a pack of dogs, led by the feral Charlie Prince (Ben Foster, in a chilling offbeat turn), volunteers are scarce. Evans is among those few who accept a cash reward for taking him to meet the train. Drawn as much by his desire to prove himself a man as Wade's irresistible allure, William follows, and, during the long ride after nights spent around the campfire, the group becomes unlikely allies in order to escape the dangers of the trail. By the time they reach Contention, Wade has gotten inside Evans' head, which isn't necessarily an advantage for him in the end.

Hobbling on a wooden leg, Evans' hero cache is dwindling as his older son's and even his wife Alice's (Gretchen Mol) faith in his ability to take care of them falters. “I'm tired of the way they look at me,” Evans tells Alice. “I'm tired of the way that you don't.” Bringing Wade to justice serves as an opportunity to give them something to be proud of. It's when William is no longer looking, as Wade points out, that Evans has to weigh the considerable financial incentive offered by a criminal against his own conscience.

As played by Crowe, Wade is clever and dangerously charismatic, an amateur sketch artist with a soft spot for green-eyed women who roots out and exploits his nemeses' weaknesses. “Your conscience is sensitive,” he says to Evans. “It's not my favorite part of you.” As demonstrated, such nuanced characterizations are strengthened by Michael Brandt and Derek Haas' quotable dialogue, some of it borrowed directly from Halstead Welles' original script—at turns powerful and amusing.

Meanwhile, Mangold has captured the sonic texture of the Old West. Gunfights are orchestrated with the thump of a Gatling gun, the clang of bullets on metal, the crack of wood and the whir of spinning wheels. The creak of leather and the swing of saloon doors compose the melody of the street. In contrast, Marco Beltrami's western score is infused with rock and funk overtones.

Such complex characterization, zinger dialogue and authentic mise-en-scene, however, is undermined in the denouement. When William expresses the hope that Wade isn't all bad, the outlaw insists he is. “I wouldn't last five minutes leading an outfit like that if I wasn't rotten as hell.” When he says this, we believe him. His actions in the climactic moments, though, say otherwise in a development that's appealing but ultimately unearned.
Distributor: Lionsgate
Cast: Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Peter Fonda, Gretchen Mol, Ben Foster, Dallas Roberts, Alan Tudyk, Vinessa Shaw, Logan Lerman, Kevin Durand and Luce Rains
Director: James Mangold
Screenwriters: Halsted Welles and Michael Brandt & Derek Haas
Producer: Cathy Konrad
Genre: Western
Rating: R for violence and some language
Running time: 117 min.
Release date: September 7, 2007
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