After Cop Land’s hearing-impaired Heflin and Walk The Line’s Johnny Cash, James Mangold again indulges his taste for beleaguered masculinity and men in black in his well-received western. Christian Bale plays the put-upon every-bloke to a tee as peg-legged rancher and family man Dan Evans. Russell Crowe, meanwhile, is debonair yet dangerous as tough criminal Ben Wade, who Evans agrees to escort to prison in order to earn money as well as his distanced wife’s love and his difficult-age son’s respect.
Mangold’s reverence for the genre screams out of the film and extras. Only a connoisseur would choose a little-seen but quietly well-regarded Elmore Leonard-scripted ’57 flick for a remake, and Mangold talks up a dust-storm about “the power of the story” on the yak-track and three beefed-up documentaries. As for westerns: “You certainly don’t want to make a bad one,” he quips waspishly, “because you’ll be putting a tombstone, as it were, on the genre.” His posse match his passion: Bale is typically tight-wound in character and likeably bluff in interview, Crowe gives good squinty charisma and the chief supports, Peter Fonda as Pinkerton guard Byron McElroy and Ben Foster as Wade’s psycho side-hand, provide proper back-up chops.
Mangold’s respect, though, lets him down a tad. The docs prove that thought and care went into authentic location work, the freshly vigorous staging of old chestnuts like a stagecoach robbery and the relationship between Evans and Wade. But this made-to-match craftsmanship lacks the earth-scorching force of, say, The Proposition. Sturdy as it is, 3:10 To Yuma falls just short of blazing.