3:10 TO YUMA (***1/2) - Starring Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Peter Fonda, Gretchen Mol, Ben Foster, Alan Tudyk, Dallas Roberts, Logan Lerman, Luke Wilson and Vinessa Shaw. Directed by James Mangold.
The original Elmore Leonard story on which this is based is about 20 pages long and 55 years old. I read it not too long ago, and it was a decent short-story western. Leonard's style is still cool to read, even today.
I have not seen the 1957 Glenn Ford movie based on that story, so I don't know how much liberty this version took with that, but they did expand and change a lot about the story, and the original ending is better, cleaner, not to mention easier to swallow. I'll say that upfront.
Despite that and one distracting supporting performance, this is one of the best movies I've seen so far this year. The western as a genre is back, and as long as the maker don't MTV the thing, like in American Outlaws, it's a sturdy backdrop for entertaining stories.
Russell Crowe and Christian Bale are in my opinion two of the most interesting leads working today. Neither has a persona they're really trying to sell. They just become the character. Crowe is one of those rare real-men actors that Hollywood doesn't churn out as much any more, and he creates a wily bad guy in Ben Wade, a robber and murderer who feels unburdened by such inconveniences as morals or a conscience. Christian Bale, meanwhile, loses himself in the role of Dan Evans, a one-legged farmer about to lose his land but sees an opportunity to make the money he needs by escorting Wade to a train that will take him to federal prison.
Crowe and Bale play off each other nicely, and the supporting cast is pretty good. I enjoyed Peter Fonda (and I usually don't) as a Pinkerton hired-gun, Logan Lerman as Bale's sure-shot son, Alan Tudyk as the comic relief (this time a doctor) and Luke Wilson in a cameo as a ruthless miner. I actually wanted more of Luke Wilson's character, and how often does that happen?
I could not enjoy Ben Foster as Crowe's right-hand psychopath. There was something too twitchy and mannered about it, like an actor consciously trying to make it memorable. Otherwise it's the best big-screen western since Open Range.