James Mangold’s remake of the 1957 Western “3:10 to Yuma” is a decent-enough entertainment, though it’s hardly going to breathe new life to a genre whose demise has been reported for at least 30 years. What this version offers is the chance to watch Russell Crowe and Christian Bale—two of the more charismatic, macho leading men around—duke it out psychologically, while another fine but less well-known intensity artist, Ben Foster, steals whatever scenes are left.
Bale plays beleaguered rancher Dan Evans, who’s hobbled by a Civil War injury. Unable to pay his bills, he’s lost the respect of his wife (Gretchen Mol) and 14-year-old son, Will (Logan Lerman), and is about to lose his ranch. Evans glimpses a chance for both money and redemption by signing up to bring the legendary outlaw Ben Wade (Crowe) to the train station in Contention, Ariz., where the 3:10 will take Wade to face justice in Yuma.
Crowe’s Wade is everything the struggling rancher isn’t—suave, confident, a master manipulator who doesn’t need to raise his voice to command the loyal admiration of his bloodthirsty gang. Wade may kill and rob for a living, but he’s got an artistic side (he sketches), and his aura bedazzles Dan’s impressionable son. Crowe works in the part because, like the character, he doesn’t have to break a sweat to cast his spell. Bale, on the other hand, practically lunges off the screen, his face so taut he suggests a man bursting at the seams. He’s not an obvious choice to play a guy riddled with self-doubt, but he uses his roiling intensity to suggest a man tripping over his own demons.
Thanks largely to these two actors, “3:10 to Yuma” builds up some steam as a character-driven action film, even when we don’t quite believe what we’re watching. Without giving anything away, let’s just say that in the interests of a socko finale Wade behaves in ways even Crowe can’t make us swallow. The screenwriters, Michael Brandt and Derek Haas, don’t improve matters by embellishing the original script written by Halsted Welles—and adding more than 30 minutes to the running time. They’ve also expanded the role of Evans’s son, but haven’t we seen the trigger-happy boy who wants to prove his mettle to overcome the shame he feels about his dad once too often?
Much more fun is the psychotic, sexually ambiguous Charlie Prince, the most ruthless and loyal (and stylishly dressed) of Wade’s vicious gang. The gifted Foster (“Six Feet Under,” “X-Men 3”) practically vibrates with perverse blood lust. Mangold’s movie, heavy on close-ups and dubious psychology, is lucky to have three such high-wattage performers to keep it afloat.