Western remakes aren’t exactly new – hell, Howard Hawks himself went out and remade Rio Bravo twice in the form of El Dorado and Rio Lobo – but modern redos of classic oaters are an especially interesting beast, usually caking adventure flicks like The Magnificent Seven and True Grit in layers of dust and grit in order to make the visuals play to a modern audience while pulling a similar trick on the morals. This brings us to James Mangold’s ’07 redux of the 1957 classic that was based on an Elmore Leonard’s short story, a ticking clock adventure that muses upon the nature of what makes true bravery and interspersing it with some kickass gunfight and some genuine lump in the throat moments.
After working his way up the ranks of Hollywood directors with movies ranging from gritty crime flick Copland to the pulp horror of Identity, Mangold eventually hit big with Johnny Cash biopic Walk The Line which gave him the heft to mount the production which either scratched an itch or lit a fire for his desire to explore the genre – after all, what are The Wolverine and Logan if not a couple of neo-westerns?
Put upon rancher Dan Evans has had a harder life than most while scraping living out in the old West. After losing his leg in the Civil War and having his youngest son almost die from tuberculosis, Dan is trying to raise cattle in land dryer than a scorpion’s butt, but seriously low funds mean his family is seriously in debt to a local wealthy fat cat. The world continues to shit on our Dan when men set fire to his barn and run off his cattle as a warning to pay up or get out and eldest son, William is disgusted at his father’s apparent lack of courage when dealing with the situation but a chance to procure funds and some self respect reveals itself when they stumble on a robbery led by outlaw Ben Wade. After saving the life of a shot Pinkerton agent, fate deals Dan a curious hand when during yet another chance meeting, the rancher inadvertently delays Wade long enough to be arrested and subsequently volunteers to be one of the group that has to deliver their quarry to the town of Contention. In order to claim payment and gain some respect from his son, all Dan and his companions have to do to get payment is deliver the introspective murderer to the 3:10 train to Yuma Territorial Prison – but true to form, the rancher’s luck continues to be of the purest cow shit. The first problem is Wade’s gang who is coming to spring him thanks to the efforts of his insanely loyal number two, the steely-eyed Charlie Prince; the second problem is that Wade’s intelligence has made incredibly proficient and crawling inside other people’s heads and living there rent free, waiting for the time to strike – and strike he does, whittling down the members of Dan’s group the second they let their guard down. Can Dan succeed in this seemingly impossible task with a bunch of murderers on his tale and an outlaw nestled cosily in his skull? But that’s the thing about mind games – sometimes they swing the other way, too. Is Wade truly as awful as they say he is?
Solid as a rocky bluff and loaded with dependable players, Mangold’s crack at 3:10 To Yuma is as brutal and ornery as any other modern Western around. Beautifully shot (much like the slower draws in the cast) and well paced, the film has a rousing style that pays its dues to the westerns of old while giving it some modern pizzazz in the action scenes. Limping front and centre is Christian Bale’s phenomenally trampled upon lead, who courage to do right by his family is overshadowed by a spotty war record and a willingness to take the high road. Horribly unprepared for the journey ahead of him, his only true weapons is that he’s still a decent shot, he mercifully isn’t stupid and – most important of all – sticks by his morals even when they don’t stick by him. Opposite him is Russell Crowe’s walking contradiction of an outlaw, more than willing to break the law at a moments notice and even shoot his own men if they don’t follow his code, he still teases himself with the concept of settling down while he thoughtfully sketches peoples likenesses. The two engage in some Hannibal Lector/Clarice Starling style quid pro quo during the journey, each trying to get a feel for the other as they get ever closer to their destination and it’s here the movie strives to find the meat of the situation.
Aiding and abetting are a cracking supporting cast that includes an insanely grizzled Peter Fonda, a typically dead-eyed Ben Foster, a permanently confused looking Alan Tudyk and a young Logan Lerman who admirably doesn’t fall into the usual bratty, trappings that come with playing the angry, older son.
The film rockets along as only a race against time with insurmountable odds can, but while the film looks and plays phenomenally well, the only thing stopping it from being a stone cold modern classic is that Bale and Russell don’t really spark off each other as much as you’d hope. They’re both great, obviously (despite Russell’s continuing search to find an accent that actually stays put for the duration of a film) but their interactions while en-route doesn’t manage to capture the knuckle-wringing intensity you’d expect considering how lethal Wade obviously is at a moment’s notice (his sudden and unconventional use of a fork is legitimately shocking). However, once the two start to warm up to one another (just a little, mind – Wade’s still dangerous as a bear with a Nuke strapped to its head), you finally start to feel the chemistry kick in just in time for the finale which is as exciting as any modern western you’re likely to see. Facing odds that would make Schwarzenegger shat his khakis, Dan has to face down Wade’s entire gang, plus some bought off townsfolk, while having to slog the half mile from a hotel room to Contention’s train station before the train comes and goes. The been-there-done-that Wade seems happy to mostly play along just to see what happens while Dan does his best to finally be the hero as bullets tear up whatever they happen to be crouching behind. It’s almost like you’re watching an anti-buddy movie, like if Butch actually wanted to murder Sundance if not for the mutual respect and it brings up memories of other blood soaked, gunpowder dusted, doomed bromances such as the kind you’d see in a John Woo movie.
Ending with a legitimate manly lump lodged firmly in your throat just as it should (I just read that back – that reads way filthier than it sounded in my head), 3:10 To Yuma may take a little longer than you’d expect for it to reach it’s full potential, but, much like its titular train service, it gets to it’s destination in the end.