Combustible Celluloid
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With: Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Peter Fonda, Ben Foster, Gretchen Mol, Vinessa Shaw, Luke Wilson, Logan Lerman, Dallas Roberts, Alan Tudyk, Luce Rains, Lennie Loftin, Rio Alexander, Johnny Whitworth, Shawn Howell, Pat Ricotti
Written by: Halsted Welles, Michael Brandt, Derek Haas, based on a story by Elmore Leonard
Directed by: James Mangold
MPAA Rating: R for violence and some language
Running Time: 117
Date: 08/21/2007

3:10 to Yuma (2007)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Stuck on 'Yuma'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Andrew Sarris once wrote about the "bread-and-butter" Western and the "blue ribbon" Western. The latter, ultra-serious example tried to make the Western more important by adding outside elements, but at the same time it sapped all the fun and very nearly killed the genre. Now James Mangold has brought it back with this strapping "bread and butter" example.

A remake of Delmer Daves' 1957 film, which was in turn based on an Elmore Leonard story, 3:10 to Yuma actually improves upon its source by adding more grit and lifeblood. Russell Crowe plays bandit Ben Wade (formerly played by Glenn Ford) as an alluring commander of men. His "pack of dogs" follow him anywhere, but at the same time, he looks about ready to retire. When Wade is captured, the debt-ridden farmer Dan Evans (Christian Bale, taking over for Van Heflin) agrees -- for a substantial reward -- to escort him to the train bound for Yuma Prison, with Wade's men hot on their trail.

Mangold directs with a "B"-movie energy and a minimum of fuss. Rather than a thundering score and explosions, he effectively weaves together a stirring symphony of leather, axles, hinges, hooves, wood and train engines. The characters, far from white-hatted good guys and mustachioed bad guys, dwell in uncomfortable gray areas, constantly asking themselves complex moral questions. Having this in common, Evans and Wade grow intriguingly closer in a Hawksian bond. The director has also picked up from Western masters such as Anthony Mann (The Naked Spur) how to use the wide, empty Western landscape as a psychological counterpart to the characters.

Peter Fonda, who once directed one of the best Westerns of the 1970s, The Hired Hand, co-stars as a crotchety bounty hunter. Wife Gretchen Mol and barmaid Vinessa Shaw are opposite, but typically underwritten women characters, though Mangold allows them a few close-ups that indicate deeper yearnings. Only Ben Foster as Wade's right hand man seems wrong. As he does in Alpha Dog, the small, sweet Foster turns into a twisted psychotic, luxuriating in his own evil. The part is overwritten and overplayed and doesn't fit with the rest of the emotionally dense material. It's a niggling flaw in an otherwise superb horse opera.

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