3:10 to Yuma is, at least in theory, the type of do-over Hollywood needs more of, as it’s based on a sturdy genre pic (a 1957 Glenn Ford western) whose flaws offer significant room for improvement. Too bad James Mangold’s version, for all its merits, doesn’t rectify its source material’s most glaring deficiency: a vicious villain whose transformative third-act decisions are unbelievable and even slightly ludicrous. Russell Crowe embodies the notorious bad guy in question, Ben Wade, with a sadistic streak complicated by hints of goodness. This duality makes him an ideal complement to Dan Evans (Christian Bale), a decent, emasculated cattle rancher who has a missing leg (from the Civil War), a disapproving and disappointed older son, and a drought-wracked piece of land that’s about to be foreclosed on by businessmen planning to run the forthcoming railroad right through it. Both men have what the other wants: Wade is the cocky stud (attractive to both impressionable boys like Evans’s kid and horny women like Evans’s wife) that the rancher wishes he was; Evans is the honest, honorable family man that the criminal secretly yearns to be. It’s this dynamic that forms the psychological groundwork for 3:10 to Yuma’s yarn about Evans’s efforts to transport Wade to the titular train before the outlaw’s gang comes to rescue him. To his film’s detriment, Mangold never makes his dusty landscape an omnipresent force, but his direction is crisp and the script’s good additions (such as Ben Foster’s psychotic sidekick promising $200 to any townsfolk who kill one of Wade’s captors) more or less counterbalance the awful (i.e. Luke Wilson as a torturer). Similarly, Bale’s stirring performance, his sunken eyes radiating pitiful shame and his body language projecting miserable frustration, proves the credible counterpoint to Crowe’s turn, which is partially undercut by the actor’s distinctly modern charisma and truly sabotaged by the filmmakers’ refusal to reconfigure the character’s phony-baloney arc. Though thematically consistent, 3:10 to Yuma asks viewers to accept its illogical finale based solely on what’s narratively come before, irrespective of the fact that its climactic moments don’t in any convincing way jibe with one’s understanding of human nature. Energetic and occasionally inspired, it’s a western that, at the moment of truth, too closely remakes when what was truly necessary was reinvention.
- Warner Bros.
- 117 min
- James Mangold
- Halsted Welles, Michael Brandt, Derek Haas
- Christian Bale, Russell Crowe, Ben Foster, Alan Tudyk, Gretchen Mol, Peter Fonda, Logan Lerman, Vinessa Shaw, Kevin Durand
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