'3:10 to Yuma' Derailed

Friday, September 7, 2007

One hopes (I do, anyway) that "3:10 to Yuma" is a big hit. That means there will be more westerns, and we old goats can die happy, with our boots on, our guns holstered and the sun at our backs.

Too bad it's not better. It's a pretty frail reed on which to bank the genre's future, even with big guys Russell Crowe and Christian Bale at the center. Based on a '50s western of the same name (hardly a classic), it features Crowe as Ben Wade, a charismatic killer who becomes the custody of small-fry rancher Dan Evans (Bale) on a journey to the nearest depot for that train of title. If Evans, way overmatched and opposed by Wade's gang as well as Wade himself, brings it off, he gets a reward that will let him save his ranch from bigger-fry business interests.

Well, you already have one relic from the '50s that most movies today lack: a motive.

But Delmer Daves, who directed the original in '57, knew a thing or two. His stars were Glenn Ford and Van Heflin. Ford had a slyness under his famous earnestness, while Heflin, no looker, had a lumpy potato face but an innate decency. Director James Mangold reverses it in his remake, turning the lumpy potato-face guy into the slick psycho (Crowe, that is) and the male-modely pretty boy into the earnest rancher. Right from the start, it feels wrong.

The original resolved itself into a "High Noon" clone, ending in a real-time scenario punctuated by clock close-ups until the whistle sounded, the train arrived and all hell broke loose. It generated real suspense as the two male archetypes -- predator and provider -- faced each other. The remake adds 24 minutes and subtracts most of the suspense. The Stockholm-syndrome nonsense -- the bond between guys good and bad over their shared ordeal -- of the original is bloated toward total absurdity in an ending that taxes believability while pandering to modern tastes for nihilism.

Oddly enough, a week after seeing the new movie in a theater on a giant screen and the old one on DVD, it's the old one that lingers in my mind.

-- Stephen Hunter

3:10 to Yuma R, 117 minutes Contains violence. Area theaters.

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