After skating the edges of the Western genre for years, with his 'urban Western' Cop Land and his country western-flavored music biopic Walk the Line, James Mangold has finally taken the plunge and made a full-on Western with 3:10 to Yuma, and the result is a success. While very faithful to the 1957 original -- some scenes are actually recreated word for word -- this film is also Mangold's own, stirring up the same ideas he's always shown interest in. If you're a Mangold fan, you know there are shadings of the classic High Noon situation in all of his films, with the good but under-pressure man standing by his principles as he's deserted by everyone around him, and 3:10 is no exception. This time, the good man is a poor, hobbled rancher named Evans, played by a typically dour Christian Bale. Evans is so broke he's about to go under when an opportunity presents itself -- he can make a fistful of cash if he's brave enough (or stupid enough) to walk a notorious and recently captured gangster named Ben Wade to the train station that will take him to prison.
Stepping into the shoes of Ben Wade is Russell Crowe, who plays the part as though he's certain that he's the film's good guy. When the film first catches up with Wade, he's sullen and bored with the criminal life, and prefers to sit up on a ridge and draw pictures of wild life, while leaving the scheming to his frustrated goons. Not that he's a pacifist -- Wade is a man capable of quick, brutal violence (even with a fork), although not prone to hatred or stupidity or any of the other dull characteristics we'd tend to associate with a man who robs and kills for a living. In fact, Crowe's (and Mangold's) decision to give Wade an abundance of good qualities to cancel out the bad ones may be a bit too much at times -- after all, we don't really want to root for this guy, do we? It's always something of a cheat when a movie tells us that the bad guy has taken many lives in the past, but doesn't really show us that side of him during the film.