3:10 to Yuma

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3:10 to Yuma
Review (9/10)
(By Ron Henriques)

Twelve years after he was introduced to American audiences in Sam Raimi's "The Quick and the Dead", Russell Crowe returns to the Western genre with James Mangold's remake of the classic Glenn Ford vehicle "3:10 to Yuma." Though remakes are a dime a dozen nowadays, this is one of the few that returns to the original source material; a short story by crime novelist Elmore Leonard, writer of such popular books as "Out of Sight" and "Rum Punch" which Leonard devotee Quentin Tarantino adapted into "Jackie Brown" for the screen. Set some years after the Civil War, Christian Bale also stars as poor rancher Dan Evans, a former Union Army sharpshooter who gave the service part of his leg and in return got two hundred dollars in his pocket. Barely able to make payments on his land, Dan along with his two sons and wife Alice (Gretchen Mol) are in danger of eviction, when the greedy deed-owner threatens to burn his property down. One early morning threat by the landowner's goons results in the herd being scattered across the countryside, with Dan and the boys finding themselves in a tight jam. Even if he were able to miraculously get an extension for his debts, the deed-owner wants Dan and his family gone in favor giving the land to the expanding railroad company who have deeper pockets.

Dan finds what may be a stroke of good luck when notorious outlaw Ben Wade (Crowe) is caught in town just hours after an armored stagecoach robbery that Dan and his boys witnessed. Wade and his posse have hit the Southern Pacific Railroad's armored cash shipments over twenty times and they would gladly pay well to see him tried and hanged. All that's needed are a few volunteers to escort Wade to the town of Contention, where he'll be placed on the 3:10 pm train to Yuma to await his sentence. Ben agrees to accompany railroad representative Mr. Butterfield (Dallas Roberts) and Byron McElroy (Peter Fonda) a mercenary/bounty hunter he and his boys rescued in the desert, in exchange for two hundred dollars. Along for the ride is sympathetic Doc Potter (Alan Tudyk) and Tucker (Kevin Durand), the hired muscle of the deed-owner of Dan's farm. It seems like a simple task except their group is being tracked by Wade's posse. Led by the merciless and trigger-happy Charlie Prince (Ben Foster), they are like dogs without a master and will use whatever methods are necessary to liberate Wade from his captors.

Unlike the original 1957 film, the stakes are raised with the addition of Dan's teenage son Will (Logan Lerman). Not only does this brash young man see his father as a coward, but has an admiration for Wade that he can not understand. Unbeknownst to the group, he follows them on their journey, against his father's wishes and makes his presence known when the time is right. As their journey progresses and the escort gets whittled down to just Wade and Dan, they engage not only in a battle of wills, but a subtle battle for the favor of young Will. Despite their differences, the two men have embarked on a path of mutual understanding that began when Dan first discovered Wade and his posse in the desert using his cattle to rob that armored stagecoach. Wade tries to tempt Dan with the promise of a payoff, offering him more than enough money to save his farm, feed his family and buy his wife nice clothes in exchange for his freedom, but the idealistic rancher never allows his moral compass to waver.

Both Crowe and Bale have chosen ideal roles that fit them like gloves, but represent two sides of the same coin. The respectful bond that develops between the two of them is completely believable and at the end of their journey, they will have a profound effects on each other in ways they could never have imagined. Though they come from different worlds and share different ideologies, both men discover some things within themselves that they never knew they had and all because of their mutual desire to do right by a young unshaped man: Will.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is another impressive performance by the young chameleon Ben Foster. As Charlie Prince, he is nearly unrecognizable behind cold-blooded snake eyes that show care only for the well-being of his master Wade. Though Wade's capture revolves around a dalliance with local barmaid Vinessa Shaw, there's the hint that Charlie's relationship with him might be physical when Fonda's McElroy mockingly refers to him as "Charlie Princess". Foster has a unique ability to travel from one extreme to another without seeming comedic as evidenced when he reshapes his hat and steals a beaten coat to pose as a hapless drifter feeding the railroad men misinformation. There are also some noteworthy performances by Alan Tudyk as the sympathetic Doc Potter and Fonda who has become a grizzled character actor in his later years, with an appearance here that resembles his character from his 1971 directorial debut "The Hired Hand".

James Mangold hasn't made much of an impression as an auteur, but rather a filmmaker who just happened to direct films that featured acclaimed performances from his stars. Joaquin Phoenix, Angelina Jolie, Reese Witherspoon and Sylvester Stallone have all either received acclaim or won Oscars for their work in his films, but Mangold has never demonstrated his presence within his work. Like his previous features, "3:10 to Yuma" is a handsome production, but unlike many established directors, you can't notice his fingerprints on his own work. Though the desert locations could have been utilized better, the photography and production design are first rate along with a top-notch cast who no doubt benefited from Mangold's direction. If only he were able to place a unique signature on his work that made his films look like they didn't direct themselves.


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