3:10 to Yuma (2007)
“Time waits for one man”
Director: James Mangold
Cast: Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Ben Foster
Synopsis: A small-time rancher agrees to hold a captured outlaw who’s awaiting a train to go to court in Yuma. A battle of wills ensues as the outlaw tries to psych out the rancher.
It’s a few years now since I last saw the original 3:10 to Yuma, but I’m pretty sure it bears only a passing resemblance to this new version. While James Mangold’s reworking doesn’t really improve on the original, it does open up the action and merge the original’s story with that of another 50s classic, Shane. This time, the stranger (kind of) admired by homesteader Christian Bale’s (The Prestige, The Dark Knight) son isn’t one of the good guys but Ben Wade (Russell Crowe — L.A. Confidential, Broken City), a bad guy with a laid back roguish charm. As with the original, Wade isn’t such a bad guy once you get to know him — that role is passed over to Ben Foster (Rampart, Contraband) who turns in a magnetic performance as Wade’s coldly malevolent sidekick; Wade is good turned bad because his daddy was a drunk and his mum abandoned him while he read the bible from cover to cover as per her instructions. As such, Wade is more of a cipher than a character: a representation of the wrong path chosen, in direct contrast to that taken by Bale’s troubled cattle farmer, who offers to transport Wade to the town of Contention for $200 out of desperation.
Bale (British) and Crowe (Australian) aren’t perhaps two actors you would expect to see playing opposite each other in a western, but they both acquit themselves well, even though they perhaps don’t play off each other as well as Van Heflin and Glenn Ford did in the original. There’s no real sense of the farmer’s fear – so central to Heflin’s character – with Bale, no attempt to expose his desperation. The decision to expand on the relationship between father and son is also not a good one, being more of a distraction from the main thrust of the story than an enhancement. The outcome of that aspect of the story is too predictable, and weakens the film as a whole.
Having said that, Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma, while not outclassing the original, is a solid, entertaining updating which justifies the decision to make it. It can’t have been an easy decision to make — reviving a moribund genre that has been out of vogue now for thirty years — but it’s good to see a modern western with a strong story, good performances and meticulous attention to detail paid to the look and feel of the times. Definitely worth a watch.