3:10 To Yuma

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Pulling into theaters a full 50 years after the arrival of the original Van Heflin-Glenn Ford classic, James Mangold's expanded take on "3:10 to Yuma" makes for a largely compelling ride on the strength of a powerful cast led by Russell Crowe and Christian Bale.

Based on a Elmore Leonard short story originally published in a 1953 issue of Dime Western magazine, this thoughtful remake -- and how often do those two words go hand in hand? -- attempts to delve even deeper into the complex dynamic between a struggling rancher and the notorious outlaw he volunteers to escort to a prison-bound train.

While a good part of the 1957 version was confined to a single hotel room and Mangold's decision to open up the piece considerably doesn't always work in its favor, Crowe, Bale and the rest of the crack ensemble keep the trip intriguing, even over those occasional bumpy parts.

Lionsgate has bumped up the film's release to get a prime berth on the awards-season express, but "Yuma" still remains a tricky commercial proposition.

Obviously much is being made of the fact that the film is from the directing and producing team responsible for "Walk the Line" as well as that matchup of two of the more intense actors in the business.

But the genre and the darker subject matter is still going to require strong word-of-mouth and stronger marketing to attract audiences.

And then there's that curious title.

As it turned out, the particular screening at which "Yuma" was reviewed commenced at precisely 3:10 p.m. Perhaps exhibitors should take note.

While on the subject of time, both versions of the picture owe a tip of the Stetson to "High Noon," which also was governed by a ticking clock and featured good guys and bad guys who wore intricate shades of gray.

Here, Bale is Dan Evans, a peaceable rancher and former Union Army sharpshooter with a bad limp who's about to lose his drought-ravaged land to a deed-holder looking to make a tidy profit from the incoming railroad.

He's also fighting a losing battle to win the respect of his 14-year-old son, Will (movingly played by Logan Lerman), and his wife, Alice (Gretchen Mol) as he falls deeper into debt.

Fate plays its hand when Evans witnesses the capture of Ben Wade (Crowe), a ruthless outlaw, who, with his fearsome gang, has just pulled off yet another violent Pinkerton robbery.

Still smarting from previous Wade Gang attacks, Southern Pacific Railroad rep Grayson Butterfield (Dallas Roberts) enlists volunteers who will ensure that his prisoner makes the three-day trek to the town of Contention, where he will board the 3:10 prison train bound for the Federal Court in Yuma, Ariz.

Evans offers his services in exchange for a $200 delivery fee, and he finds himself joining the decidedly motley posse that also includes a grizzled bounty hunter who was injured in the most recent Wade attack (a terrific Peter Fonda) and a gentle veterinarian (Alan Tudyk).

But with Wade's fiercely loyal second-in-command, Charlie Prince (a perfectly psychotic Ben Foster) hot on their trail, a showdown is only a matter of time.

With an extra half-hour to play around with over the original's 92-minute length, Mangold -- whose 1997 film "Cop Land" also took its inspiration from the Delmer Daves-directed, Halsted Welles-penned picture -- has plenty of opportunity to lay down all that extra psychological track, as well as build in action sequences and scenic vistas, vibrantly captured by cinematographer Phedon Papamichael.

While all that opening up makes sound commercial sense and allows a greater interplay between its two intelligent leads, it's at the expense of the original's satisfyingly self-contained structure and tightly calibrated claustrophobia.

As it is, the Mangold version, credited to original screenwriter Welles along with Michael Brandt & Derek Haas, feels truncated in places, most notably after a sequence taking place just before the arrival at Contention.

By the time it gets down to the final philosophical face-off between Evans and Wade in that hotel room, the exchanges already feel somewhat played out, with Crowe's character doing an awful lot of asking questions for a guy with a reputation for shooting first.

But Mangold again draws memorable performances across the board, and while Crowe and Bale should figure into awards campaigning, all -- including Kevin Durand as a smirking thug and an unbilled Luke Wilson -- are right on the money.

The impressive work extends behind the scenes to Andrew Menzies' effectively parched production design and Marco Beltrami's percolating score, which subtly yet effectively signals "Yuma's" status as a thinking-person's Western.

3:10 TO YUMA
Lionsgate
Lionsgate in association with Relativity Media presents
a Tree Line film
Credits:
Director: James Mangold
Screenwriters: Halsted Welles and Michael Brandt & Derek Haas
Based on the short story by: Elmore Leonard
Producer: Cathy Konrad
Executive producers: Stuart Besser, Ryan Kavanaugh, Lynwood Spinks
Director of photography: Phedon Papamichael
Production designer: Andrew Menzies
Music: Marco Beltrami
Costume designer: Arianne Phillips
Editor: Michael McCusker
Cast:
Ben Wade: Russell Crowe
Dan Evans: Christian Bale
William Evans: Logan Lerman
Byron McElroy: Peter Fonda
Grayson Butterfield: Dallas Roberts
Charlie Prince: Ben Foster
Emma Nelson: Vinessa Shaw
Doc Potter: Alan Tudyk
Alice Evans: Gretchen Mol
Running time -- 117 minutes
MPAA rating: R
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