3:10 TO YUMA directed by James Mangold, written by Halsted Welles, Michael Brandt and Derek Haas, with Christian Bale, Russell Crowe and Gretchen Mol. 119 minutes. A Maple Pictures release. Opens Friday (September 7). Rating: NNNN
September offers a rare collision of events: two westerns released in a single month for the first time since 1985, when Pale Rider and Silverado opened two weeks apart. The Assasination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford opens September 21 after a Film Festival premiere. It's apparently a meditation on the nature of fame, with Brad Pitt as the eighth or ninth cinematic manifestation of the legendary outlaw.
This week we get a remake of a semi-classic western, with Christian Bale facing off against Russell Crowe. Interestingly, it gives a screenplay credit to Halsted Welles, who adapted Elmore Leonard's story for the original 1957 film.
A quick check of the earlier film shows that about 85 minutes' worth of Welles's script are neatly wrapped into the new version, which essentially gives us 10 new minutes of introduction to establish the character and desperation of Bale's Dan Evans, a cattle rancher slowly going bust during a drought while he loses the love of his wife (Gretchen Mol) and the respect of his sons.
Then it adds some large-scale action sequences. It's a tribute to the structural integrity of Welles's script that 50 years on, professional filmmakers didn't feel the need to mess with the essence of the conflict between a decent man trying to hold onto his integrity and a Mephistophelean outlaw whose easy charm offers big temptation. That would be Russell Crowe's Ben Wade.
The action sequences are violent and chaotic and rather unexpected from director James Mangold, who is best known for guiding Reese Witherspoon and Angelina Jolie to Oscars in Walk The Line and Girl, Interrupted.
Mangold's an indoor rather than an outdoor director, so if he was going to pick a western project, it's not surprising that he'd pick one that's mostly a chamber drama, with two or three characters jawing in a single room while waiting for something to happen when they leave. (He did much the same thing in psychological thriller Identity, which also mostly consists of people arguing in rooms.)
That, when we get down to it, is the real reason to see 3:10 To Yuma. It's a superbly constructed acting duel between two of our best actors - Crowe's charm pitched against Bale's blunt desperation. You have to admire Bale's willingness to get himself looking this grubby, especially when Crowe's got the movie-star part.
I hated the last two minutes, which is a blatant bit of catering to the picture's big star. It's the sort of ending that illustrates what happens when your big-money player says something like "I really think the character would ," and the director quickly realizes that it's a whim of steel. So he keeps the star happy, a decision that lands him somewhere between whoredom and simple survival.
Ironically, the ending's not that far removed from the original's. I'm tempted to mark it down to scriptwriters who weren't quite as savvy as Halsted Welles, who got the same emotional effect without resorting to this kind of pandering.