3:10 TO YUMAR
Based on a story by Elmore Leonard, 3:10 to Yuma features one of those elemental plot lines that tend to characterize the western genre. A down-on-his-luck rancher (Christian Bale) hires out to guard a killer (Russell Crowe) until he can be placed on a train to an Arizona prison. During the agonizing day-and-a-half our hero has to spend with the villain, Mr. Bad Guy plays all sorts of mind games on the reluctant everyman, while they wait to see if the murderer’s gang will rescue him before the train arrives.
3:10 to Yuma’s plot is similar in some ways to High Noon—especially in its latter third, when local town folk and lawmen, realizing they are outgunned by the gang, begin to melt away, leaving the farmer to fight this battle alone. But in both its original incarnation, and this remake, 3:10 to Yuma does not have the pulse-pounding suspense and aura of impending doom that has made Fred Zinnemann’s movie a justly recognized masterwork.
In fact, the original doesn’t play all that well these days. Although Glenn Ford’s wily bandit is fun to watch, the film is slow-moving and at times painfully bathetic. So you can see why director James Mangold (Walk the Line) decided to pump up the action for this remake by adding an additional gunfight or two, an Apache ambush and a crusty bounty hunter (Peter Fonda). He’s also given the rancher a 14-year-old son (Logan Lerman), whose impulsiveness almost leads to disaster.
For the most part, this plays out just fine onscreen, although Bale’s dour hero seems to be little match for Crowe’s polite but creepy killer. (And Crowe, it should be said, is no match for Glenn Ford.) Mangold’s direction is assured, and the production looks just fine, thanks in no small part to Phedon Papamichael’s lustrous cinematography.
But (no spoilers here) like the original, this remake has to jump through some serious psychological hoops to make its ending credible. And just like the original, it doesn’t entirely convince. Mangold’s finale is more blood-soaked and downbeat than Daves’, but there’s still an element of disbelief that hangs over the entire affair, a question of suspect motivation on the bad guy’s part.
The bottom line is that while it’s a workmanlike piece of filmmaking, 3:10 to Yuma pales in comparison to a solidly traditional western like Kevin Costner’s Open Range. That noted, about the best you can say about Mangold’s work is that it won’t kill off the genre. Nor will it help to revive it.