Based on a short story by Elmore Leonard, a writer known more for loan sharks and confidence men than ruthless bandits and old-soul lawmen, 3:10 to Yuma originally sold Glenn Ford as slick outlaw Ben Wade and Van Heflin as Dan Evans, the rancher burdened with delivering Wade to a prison train heading to Yuma. Directed in 1957 by Delmer Daves, the original was a perversely intimate piece of rawhide for a genre that already prided itself on its strange seclusion.
Fit for our time, Evans is now played by master of reticence Christian Bale
and Wade is now played by a rough-and-tumble Russell Crowe
with just the right hint of sadism. Evans' cathartic mission to get Wade on the train to the gallows now spans three days rather than one, and Bale's cavalry includes Alan Tudyck and Peter Fonda
. To give room for the new additions, director James Mangold
stretches Daves' film from its airtight 90-minute runtime to a full two hours, throwing in a father-and-son angle and a chase through a railroad path being built by Chinese laborers. The man who keeps the Chinese in line? Luke Wilson, of course. Article continues below
The Yuma for our generation doesn't really need to be a Western, it just needs to load its six-shooter and shine its spurs for the audience. Space and staging are neglected in Yuma's veneer, but the film's visceral tempo brings on instant engagement. At one point, a horse with a bag of dynamite on its saddle is shot and blows up, reminiscent of the car explosions in Live Free or Die Hard
. If the film fails as a Western across the boards, it succeeds as a dumb action film simply by looking different than what we're used to. Every shoot-out and face-off is fully mechanized, and the script, flimsy in dialogue and light on ideas, has a staid, calculated structure.
The quiet, insular character that Bale has refined over the years doesn't fit the morally-confused Evans, who takes the job on the promise of a hefty payment. The slow moral realization that Heflin was perfect at revealing never makes it in Bale's hands. Better-suited Crowe comes on with full movie-villain bravado, playing the love-to-hate-'em card with full zeal. Both, however, are constantly upstaged by Ben Foster
, who plays Wade's right-hand man Charlie Prince. Where Bale and Crowe struggle to find footing in the script's fumbling moralistic manhunt, Foster is clear-eyed and fierce, screaming "This town is gonna burn!" as if it were a judgment handed down from the Almighty.
Mangold's filmmaking here is sturdy, but the storytelling is cheap and the film's sincerity is shallow. Akin to Walk the Line, the drama melts into cheap, derivative sentimentality and relies solely on the actors, taking away any stress on imagery or pacing. Though its entertainment value is undeniable, the lack of depth and complexity lead to the film's hollow climax and preposterous conclusion like a speeding train with no conductor. In attempting to moralize the filth of the old West, Mangold sells out the genre's strongest asset. You can see it as Ford's pearl necklace is traded for Crowe's pencil sketches; the shot of whiskey traded in for green tea.