3:10 to Yuma

 

"Four stars (R)

3:10 to Yuma is a remake of a 1957 film based on Elmore Leonard’s short story that first appeared in a 1953 issue of Dime Western Magazine. The character study focuses on two men, rancher and family man Dan Evans (Christian Bale) and charismatic outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe).

I didn’t see the well-regarded original, but I can tell you that Van Heflin played the rancher, with Glenn Ford — working against type — taking the role of the bad guy. Fans of the movie should know that changes have been made here, especially toward the end of the picture.

The remake is one of those movies where the good stuff is so satisfying that when you notice a flaw, you let it slide by. Take Die Hard, for example. That film had problems coming out the yin yang: massive gaps in logic, annoying stereotypical supporting characters, yada yada yada, but you didn’t care because the byplay between Bruce Willis’ everyman cop and Alan Rickman’s sneering criminal mastermind worked so well.

3:10 to Yuma is like that, except that it only has a few action scenes and they aren’t nearly so colorfully staged and the story is more grim and low-key than Die Hard and maybe that was a bad example, but you know what I was getting at, don’t you?

Sheesh.

Anyway, poor Dan Evans, who was crippled in the Civil War, will lose his ranch in a few days if he doesn’t make a big payment. He’s already lost the respect of elder son Will (Logan Lerman), and his wife Alice (Gretchen Mol) isn’t exactly singing his praises either.

Meanwhile, dapper villain Ben Wade, having just knocked off a payroll coach, is wooing a barmaid (Vinessa Shaw) in a nearby town when he gets arrested. Evans, who witnessed the robbery, helps with the arrest and gets offered a mean chunk of change to escort the outlaw to the railway town of Contention, where he will be put on (all together now) the 3:10 to Yuma.

Of course, nothing goes smoothly. Wade’s gang, led in his absence by his No. 2 man, tightly-wound psychopath Charlie Prince (Ben Foster), is determined to rescue their boss. Wade reminds Evans and the rest of his captors of this fairly often. He also quotes Bible passages periodically and asks a lot of trivial-sounding questions, in an affable tone of voice.

What’s right about the James Mangold (Walk the Line) film is the story, the texture and the actors. The cast, which also includes Peter Fonda as a no-nonsense wagon driver, Dallas Roberts as a railroad representative and Firefly’s Alan Tudyk as a gentle-natured veterinarian, is right on the money. In the lead roles, Christian Bale contributes another exceptional performance as the sad but strong rancher, while Russell Crowe steals the show as the disturbingly charming Ben Wade. Crowe gets most of the best lines and he knows what to do with them.

So what about those flaws I was yapping about earlier? The movie gets a little windy at points — it could stand a bit less chatter and a bit more action — and parts of the big closing scene don’t make sense. But if you’re like me, you won’t worry about the minuses because the pluses in 3:10 to Yuma outweigh them by a mile.

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