Director James Mangold sure likes his westerns. Cop Land retooled High Noon, with Sly Stallone as Freddy Heflin, a New Jersey sheriff who’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. Heflin’s name was a nod to 3.10 To Yuma, a forgotten semi-classic from 1957 with Van Heflin as a small-time rancher who guards Glenn Ford’s big-time outlaw till the train to Yuma prison arrives.
Fitting, then, that Mangold has finally saddled up and remade it, grafting A-list stars Russell Crowe and Christian Bale onto its B-movie set-up. As in the original, the drama lies in the tension between the two men as the clock tick-tocks towards 10 past three. Crowe is bulky and blokey as Ben Wade, a bloodthirsty robber baron with a silver tongue. Bale is strung-out as Dan Evans, a peg-legged Civil War vet and cash-strapped rancher. As they’re forced into each other’s company, envy feeds them both. Evans wants the outlaw’s freedom; Wade covets domestic bliss with Evans’ homestead wife (Gretchen Mol). Grudging respect eventually develops…
Mangold opens out the claustrophobic, hotel-room setting of the original and stages action set pieces – such as a frantic stagecoach robbery – with relish. The film’s secondary characters are memorably drawn too, providing quirky spins on genre staples like Peter Fonda’s Pinkerton agent or Ben Forster’s preening killer, Charlie Prince, who finds fey menace in a limp wrist and twitchy snarl.
Where the film falters is in the energy between its two leads, a rapport that’s surprisingly more fizzle than sizzle. Bale is excellent, playing a hero unmanned by his amputation and eager to prove himself. Crowe is less convincing, trapped in a role that requires him to be a cold-blooded varmint and keep the audience’s sympathy. Smirking his way through his scenes, the Aussie star doesn’t get to cut loose as a villain. It’s a disappointing failure of nerve and while it isn’t enough to de-rail Mangold’s likeable oater, it does keep 3.10 To Yuma from building up a full head of steam.
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Pitting Chris against Russ, Yuma harks back to B-movie westerns but fails to tap its A-list stars' potential. Those who aren't diehard fans of the genre might want to catch a different train.