An exciting throwback to the Westerns of old, James Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma underscores its compelling tale of bringing an outlaw to justice with a psychological battle of wits and morals between two men who have more in common than either realizes.
Film pays homage to the thinking-man’s morality tale Westerns of the 1950’s, classics like High Noon, The Gunfighter, and, of course, Delmer Daves’ original 3:10 to Yuma, which was based on a short story by Elmore Leonard.
Yet while this remake follows the original closely, by the end something has been lost in translation; what should have been an emotionally stirring conclusion instead feels illogical, with character motivation less than fully fleshed out.
Rancher Dan Evans (Christian Bale) and his family face eviction from their property by the local landowner who has just had men burn down his barn. While in town to confront the landowner, opportunity presents itself: with help from Evans, dangerous outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) is captured.
For the fee of $200 – enough to clear his debts – Evans offers his services in transporting Wade to the town of Contention, where he’ll catch the titular prison train in two days. The journey will be anything but easy, however, with the dangerous prisoner and his gang – led by frothing-at-the-mouth psycho Charlie Prince (Ben Foster) on their trail.
Bale and Crowe give equally strong performances, and their muted but intense relationship serves as the heart of the film.
Spirited, memorable turns in side roles aid the film greatly; Peter Fonda’s grizzled mercenary Byron McElroy and Ben Foster’s mad-dog villain Charlie Prince both steal the show whenever they’re on screen; also effective are Dallas Roberts and Alan Tudyk as a railroad man and doctor, respectively, who join the men escorting Evans to Contention.
But Mangold seems to have caught himself in between telling a rousing action tale and more subdued psychological one; the big shootout at the end and the ultimate morale of the film work well enough on their own terms, but don’t come together as effectively as one would hope.
Rousing score by Marco Beltrami often recalls the classic genre work by Ennio Morricone.
Taut editing keeps things compelling, but the film is missing the real-time ticking clock of the original; a great line of irony (“where’s the train?”) is unfortunately lost here.