Director James Mangold, who hit his stride with the Johnny Cash biopic WALK THE LINE, delivers another solid punch with this hard-edged and marvelously acted remake of Delmar Daves' classic 1957 western.
Three years after losing his leg defending the nation's capital from the advancing Confederate troops, Civil War veteran Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is about to lose his drought-stricken Arizona ranch to the ruthless and ever-expanding Southern Pacific Railroad. Tucker (Kevin Durand), a thug in the employ of local businessman Glen Hollander (Lennie Loftin), has just burned down Evans' barn, and if he doesn't come up with the money he owes Hollander on the property within a week, Evans, his wife, Alice (Gretchen Mol), and their two boys, 14-year-old William (Logan Lerman) and his sickly younger brother, Mark (Benjamin Petry), will lose everything. Evans feels like a failure, and young, disenchanted William, who never misses an opportunity to express his disappointment in his father, concurs. Evans sees an opportunity to make some cash and earn his son's respect when notorious bandit Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) is captured after robbing the railroad's Pinkerton payroll coach for the 22nd time. A posse is needed to escort Wade to tiny frontier town Contention, where he'll be put on the 3:10 train bound for Yuma Prison and the gallows. For $200, Evans agrees to ride alongside arsonist Tucker, slimy railroad boss Grayson Butterfield (Dallas Roberts), brutal Pinkerton agent Byron McElroy (Peter Fonda) — who took a shot to the gut during the payroll job — and the town's milquetoast veterinarian, Doc Potter (Alan Tudyk). Getting to Contention is dangerous enough: The hills are filled with Apache, Wade's gang, led by the fiercely loyal and lethal Charlie Prince (Ben Foster), are lying in wait, and the decoy prison coach heading in the opposite direction will only fool them for so long. By the time Evans and Wade hole up in the bridal suite of Contention's only hotel to wait for the 3:10 to arrive, Wade's gang has descended upon the town, ready to kill Evans the minute he steps out the door.
Mangold's take on the material unfolds in a grim, morally ambiguous world where looking for justice where there is none will most likely get you killed. Early pulp fiction like Beadle's Dime Novels glorify brutes like Wade — William, initially starstruck by the famous bandit, has a stack of them at his bedside — and the only guy wearing white is Charlie Prince, the biggest psycho of all. Elmore Leonard's original story "Three-Ten to Yuma," published in the March 1953 issue of Dime Western Magazine, was a taut 14-page scenario that Daves and screenwriter Halsted Welles adapted into a lean, mean 90-minute thriller. Mangold's version lacks Daves' economy and adds another half hour of material, most involving Evans' troubled relationship with William and his conflicted feelings about Wade. The nerve-racking wait at the Contention hotel is no longer the film's centerpiece, but the deeper characterization gives Bale an opportunity to once again sink his teeth into a complex role, and offers a reminder as to why the notoriously difficult Crowe is sometimes worth the trouble. leave a comment --Ken Fox