by ED SYMKUS & r & & r & 3:10 to Yuma & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he 50-year-old 3:10 to Yuma was a pretty good film: a rugged, personal Western about heroes and villains. It focused on the nasty villain, Ben Wade (Glenn Ford), and the would-be hero, Dan Evans (Van Heflin), and how their lives intertwined for a short, intense period. Taken from the short story by Elmore Leonard, the film was an atypical slice of the Old West that is remembered today more for its offbeat title than anything else.
Yet so much of the original's dialogue was so good that the remake's screenwriters, Michael Brandt and Derek Haas, retained a big chunk of the late Halsted Welles' original script. And they, along with director James Mangold (Walk the Line) have fashioned a beefed-up, tightly wound advance on the first film.
One of the best ideas here -- after Tom Cruise decided not to take the pivotal role of Wade -- was to cast Russell Crowe in the part, marking only the second time he's played such a vile character (see the 1993 skinhead film Romper Stomper), albeit one with charisma (again, see Romper Stomper). Wade is evil, cold-hearted, and wanted by sheriffs everywhere. Crowe knows how to fill his visage with menace to such a degree that he hardly needs to speak to have his Wade strike fear in people. After Wade commits all kinds of lethal mayhem, lawmen finally grab him -- and the law intends to put Wade on a train that will take him straight to jail. But down-on-his-luck rancher Evans (Christian Bale, again remarkable, this time in a highly emotional, heart-on-his-sleeve performance) crosses Wade's path when he's offered much-needed cash to help escort the bad guy to the train.
The story is about many forms of loyalty: Dan's to his family, Wade's vicious gang to Wade, workers to their company, lawmen to their town. And it's about how that loyalty is tested in the worst of circumstances. There's also a strongly felt side story about hapless Dan's need for respect from his young son William (Logan Lerman), who only sees his dad's weaknesses.
But don't forget that this is also a Western, done up in the grand style of dirty, dusty, violent Westerns. Wade's gang, headed up by dangerous, dead-eyed, Charlie Prince (Ben Foster of The Punisher and Alpha Dog) will do anything to rescue him from the law. And most of what they do involves blazing guns.
The action and violence -- there's a thundering attack on a stage at the beginning, a horrifying immolation in the middle, a gripping shootout near the end -- have been upped considerably from the original. No surprise there. But not a moment of it seems exploitative. It feels real, and it comes across as what some of the worst of the West must have been like.
New in this film is the character of the bounty hunter Byron McElroy (played to tough and grizzled perfection by Peter Fonda). New is the idea of opening up the story, to show additional dangers to on the way to the train station. And new -- though the script stays remarkably close to the best parts of the original -- is the ending. This one fits much better within our troubled contemporary times. In its conclusion, 3:10 to Yuma interrogates our notions of loyalty and justice, and it questions why we do what's commonly thought of as the right thing. (Rated R)