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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
A Man's Gotta Do What A Man's Gotta Do
by John P. McCarthy

Climb aboard the 3:10 to Yuma -- a suspenseful, surprisingly emotional update of the 1957 Western. You'll find many of the genre's quintessential themes distilled and ready to be gulped down like whiskey in a dusty saloon. A taste for this brand of entertainment isn't necessary, which isn't to say it's a revisionist Western.

Adapted from on a short story by Elmore Leonard, the black-and-white original ranks as one of the best if lesser-known oaters of the 1950s. In the same vein as High Noon and Shane, it's a mano-e-mano yarn pitting  flamboyant outlaw Ben Wade against a downtrodden Arizona rancher struggling to provide for his family.

Glenn Ford portrayed the sanguine Wade and Russell Crowe takes the role in this new version helmed by James Mangold (Walk the Line). Christian Bale more than fills Van Heflin's boots as Dan Evans, the decent Civil War vet with a bum leg caught between the land-hungry railroad and a devastating drought.

Combining elements of a psychological thriller with riveting action, the story is gussied up with additional characters and more twists and momentum shifts than you can shake a six-shooter at. The first major action sequence has Wade's vicious gang robbing a stagecoach guarded by rent-a-Pinkerton Byron McElroy (Peter Fonda), a bounty hunter and Wade's longtime nemesis.

Evans and his two wide-eyed boys witness the bloody fracas and when Wade is captured in town a short time later, Evans agrees to help escort the charismatic crook to the town of Contention and put him on the titular prison train to stand trial in Yuma. Evans desperately needs the two-hundred dollars offered by the railroad; but he also sees it as a way to gain the respect of his wife (Gretchen Mol) and sons. The ragtag posse that sets out on the two-day journey is clearly no match for the wily Wade, and Evans is the most capable of the bunch. With Wade's gang in pursuit and led by his dastardly lieutenant Charlie Prince (Ben Foster), much exciting gunplay and violent chicanery ensues, leading to a gripping, beat-the-clock and dodge-the-bullet climax.

Both leads are wonderful, yet considering what he has to work with one can argue Bale gives the more impressive performance. In the flashier role Crowe gets Bible passages to recite, a pistol called the "Hand of God," plus a combination of brains, brawn and charm. The two actors seem to be trying to outdo each other by underplaying their parts and still the connection between Wade and Evans is immediately palpable and becomes more engrossing as the tension escalates. Certain plot points and choices by the characters strain credulity, yet it's not due to any lax logic in the script.

If the deck weren't stacked against Evans there would be less drama. Even after the financial incentives for escorting the prisoner have dropped away, he believes in the rule of law and, more practically tangibly, in the power of his example by doing the right thing. The situation underscores perennial cowboy themes about the boundary between bravery and foolhardiness. As one coward explains before running scared, "A fair fight. That's a man's duty." This predicament has little to do with duty and everything to do with redemption through courageous behavior.

Cinematically speaking, 3:10 to Yuma is not a fair fight either. Yet the moviemaking is less rigged or tricked-out than it seems at first reckoning. It's easy to be dazzled by the sure-handed presentation, in the same way it's easy to be seduced by the glamour and allure of the black hat. Beneath these lie a terrific story and a compelling hero in a white hat. Just as few people get the opportunity to exhibit intestinal fortitude when it really matters, few movies -- Westerns or non-Westerns, classics or modern updates -- are as stirring as this remake. 

(Released by Lionsgate and rated "R" for violence and some language.)

Listen to John P. McCarthy discuss 3:10 to Yuma with Diana Saenger and Betty Jo Tucker by clicking on this BlogTalkRadio link at 4 p.m. Eastern Time on Tuesday, September 11th -- or anytime after that date.

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