The sagging Western genre received a sharp boost in popularity when Clint Eastwood's "Unforgiven" won the 1992 Best Picture Oscar. Now, filmmaker James Mangold ("Walk the Line") is trying to keep the cinematic sagebrush rolling, with a remake of the 1957 minor classic, "3:10 to Yuma."
The earlier Van Heflin-Glenn Ford film is based on an Elmore Leonard story about a straight-arrow farmer's struggle to put a sinister outlaw on the 3:10 train to Yuma, where the hangman awaits. The dynamic is the psychological cat-and-mouse mind games played between the captor (Heflin) and his captive (Ford) as the "High Noon" seconds tick by, for the train's arrival. The emphasis is acting, not action.
While the same can be said for the remake, action is not alien to the Mangold film. Featured are an assortment of shootouts, stagecoach attacks, Indian raids and quick-draw duals. As with the 1957 original, the dramatic power comes from the intensity of the two leading men, here played by Christian Bale as beleaguered farmer Dan Evans and Russell Crowe as Ben Wade, the Machiavellian outlaw.
A poor, but hopelessly honest landowner, Evans is an amputee and former Union Army sharpshooter, who has only bad luck in attempting to raise a family and a farm in post- Civil War Arizona. Wade is a flamboyant legendary robber and gang leader, with a deep, though strange moral code, which keeps his lackeys in line and slightly off center. Chief among them is Wade's right hand man, trigger happy psycho Charlie Prince (Ben Foster).
Desperate for cash, Evans enlists with railroad henchmen to take the just-caught Wade to Yuma, where he'll answer for his crimes against the Southern Pacific train tycoons. One of the henchmen is portrayed by an unrecognizable Peter Fonda, as grizzled and reprehensible Pinkerton bounty hunter Bryon McElroy, whose fate is not mourned by any in the movie or the audience.
Wade's big connecting bond with Evans is their shared hatred of the railroad barons, responsible for the burning of the farmer's barn in an effort to remove him from his land, which is blocking the route of a new train line. The anti-railroad sentiment is an angle the outlaw uses like a psychological magnet to move Evans'emotions. It also works well on the farmer's teenage son, William (Logan Lerman), who is drawn to Wade's charisma.
Great "American" acting has simply gone global.