|A FilmExposed Film Review
Dir: James Mangold, 2007, USA, 117mins
Cast: Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Ben Foster, Gretchen Mol, Peter Fonda
Delmer Davies’ original 3:10 to Yuma (1957) is the kind of neglected gem film buffs love recommending to friends. Now, two of Hollywood’s broodiest leading men unite for Mangold’s rip-roaring remake. Downtrodden rancher Dan Evans (Bale), struggling to support his family, agrees to deliver notorious outlaw Ben Wade (Crowe) onto the 3:10 to Yuma, the train that will take him to prison. Along the precarious journey, Wade and Evans earn each other’s grudging respect, but Wade’s gang are following every step of the way, leading both men towards a blazing, bullet-strewn destiny.
Based on a short story by Elmore Leonard, 3:10, like many westerns, offers a study of conflicting masculinity. Like the Duke said: “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do” – there’s a surprising mileage in that theme, which the original explores exceptionally well. Who has greater integrity? The hard-working, family man? Or the wily outlaw, equally honest in his way? Ben Wade isn’t the devil incarnate, but a complex, conflicted soul, capable of compassion. Here, the decision to make Wade a bloodthirsty killer undercuts our empathy. Mangold and screenwriters Hallsted Welles and Michael Brandt try to have it both ways, by ensuring Wade only kills people who annoy or insult him. So that’s alright then. Crowe is a solid actor, he plays what he’s given to the hilt, but the screenplay has rendered a subtly shaded, ambiguous anti-hero frustratingly inconsistent. Similarly, the script doesn’t do Dan Evans justice, providing him scant opportunities to demonstrate heroism – save for his climactic stand – and suggesting he’s only doing it to prove himself to his disenchanted son. However, Bale delivers the standout performance, ennobling a broken man with pathos and admirable tenacity.
Mangold tends to squander promising ideas (Kate & Leopold (2001), Identity (2003)), but does fine work here, updating the western for a contemporary audience. His aggressive sound mix has ear-splitting gunshots ringing in your skull, but he draws memorable character turns from Mol as Evans’ wife, Alan Tudyk as a heroic veterinarian-turned-doctor, and, as an ice-cold gunman, Ben Foster unrecognisable from his days as the teen star of Get Over It (2001). Fonda’s grizzled lawman is another victim of the screenplay’s inconsistent characterization and there’s a surprising, “what’s he doing here?” cameo from Luke Wilson.
Mangold delivers a pulse-pounding finish with Evans and Wade dodging bullets in a mad dash for the 3:10 train, expertly choreographed and edited. However, the revised ending is a point of contention. Instead of the life-affirming humanism of the original, Mangold opts for Peckinpah-style, poetic tragedy. Also, a closing shot renders Wade’s supposedly noble gesture rather hollow. But this is a new 3:10 to Yuma for a new generation who might find the original conclusion too sentimental. Perhaps, but for this story to really deliver, bleaker ain’t necessarily better.