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Monday, 29 November 1999 18:00
Local opeing date: 9/7/2007
Reviewed by Diane Carson
Iconic, archetypal, the western is a quintessential American genre. But Hollywood has little confidence in westerns, believing its heyday has passed, so few such projects get greenlighted. The remake of the 1957 3:10 to Yuma may change all that if audiences embrace the many classic moments along with some tremendously powerful and decidedly quirky elements. The film looks great, the editing zings it along, and the music offers powerful backdrops.

But the real reason to see 3:10 to Yuma is to watch the acting tour-de-force by Russell Crowe and Christian Bale staring each other down, proving that less is definitely more. For while action scenes punctuate the story, this is a character study with quiet intensity more important than the explosive violence that occurs.

Based on Elmore Leonard's 1953 short story in Dime Western magazine, 3:10 to Yuma offers simplicity of purpose and motives. Russell Crowe plays notorious Ben Wade, a very bad hombre devoid of any hint of recognizable human compassion. In a thrilling sequence, his equally ruthless gang members, who call him Ben "Boss," rob the stagecoach for the 22nd time even with the best Pinkertons on board and a Gatling gun at their disposal. Soon, however, Wade is caught and must be transported to Contention to await the 3:10 train to Yuma. It will deliver him to the Federal Court housed there and Wade's long-awaited hanging, eagerly anticipated by law-abiding citizens. Among them is impoverished cattleman Dan Evans (Bale) who desperately needs the $200 reward to accompany the prisoner-that's it in a nutshell with deliberate echoes of many time-honored western conventions with Chinese railroad workers, renegade Apaches, and other hurdles along the way.

Nothing is the least bit believable, especially the concluding shootout. I also kept wondering why the posse didn't just hang Wade right away-there's no question he's guilty. But then there'd be no exciting movie with Evans' wide-eyed, teenage son along for the ride and the danger. 3:10 to Yuma includes malicious violence, and I wonder if HBO's phenomenal Deadwood has raised the stakes or if the escalating cinematic violence is just pervasive. Either way, director James Mangold, known for his work on Walk the Line, elicits splendid performances by Crowe and Bale, who prove again what charismatic actors can do as the implosive calm at the eye of the storm erupting around them. 3:10 to Yuma is their seminar in acting. At area theatres.

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