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3.10 To Yuma
cast: Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Ben Foster, and Logan Lerman

director: James Mangold

117 minutes (15) 2007
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Relativity DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by J.C. Hartley
Translation, it is pretty much accepted, is at best imprecise, if not impossible. A single word in one language may contain a host of cultural impressions that would take a paragraph to convey in another. Without this imprecision and fluidity there would not be library shelves full of versions of Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and the works of Lorca and Apollinaire. The art of translation is just that, an attempt to recreate or remake a text, teasing out some cultural nuance that speaks to the new audience or the old audience in a new way. When successful, the new text stands alone as a creative entity in its own right.

But what of the cinema, where the remake at times seems to emphasise a dearth of innovation and creativity? Remakes can fall within a variety of approaches; the frankly bizarre shot-for-shot remake by Gus van Sant of Psycho in 1998, is of the 'why bother if you can't move on from the original' school, as is Neil LaBute's 2006 The Wicker Man. Director John Boorman suggested that Payback (1999), was the script for Point Blank (1967) that Lee Marvin threw out of his hotel window. 2003's The Italian Job, took some character names, and a few cars, and made a perfectly watchable little heist movie, that had no pretensions to be the iconic epitome of national character that its 1969 UK predecessor had come to represent. Some remakes take the name and little else; others make a cultural transition within the parameters of the story.

The 1957 film 3:10 To Yuma, directed by Delmer Daves (Dark Passage, Broken Arrow), from an Elmore Leonard short story, paired the grizzled decency of Van Heflin, virtually reprising his embattled smallholder from Shane (1953), with Glenn Ford's charismatic outlaw. The film is well thought of for its cinematography and the playing of the leads. If the detail of the original has become a little hazy, despite it being a staple of afternoon TV at one time, it is remarkable how close the remake by James Mangold (Walk The Line) follows its source. Clearly the motive power of the film was to match two powerful leads, the mannered stagy playing of superstar Russell Crowe (A Good Year), with the retentive fixated performance of Christian Bale (Batman Begins). How might things have panned out if they had switched roles?

Dan Evans (Bale) is a struggling rancher, maimed in the Civil War, and hounded in debt. His path crosses with Ben Wade, a legendary outlaw, who uses Evans' cattle to ambush a stagecoach carrying a payroll. After the heist, Wade dallies with a bargirl at the local saloon, where he is captured after Evans distracts him. Evans accepts a fee that will clear his debts, to join a posse to deliver Wade onto the eponymous prison train, possibly as a respite from confronting his problems as much as a means to solve them. Wade's gang follow, seeking to liberate their boss; led by Charlie Prince (Ben Foster, X-Men: The Last Stand), who possibly harbours lonesome cowboy feelings for Wade, although this is only barely inferred. After an abortive escape attempt by Wade, the depleted posse is joined by Evans' teenage son, struggling with the lack of respect he feels for his father. In the town of Contention, the gang offer the townsfolk $200 a head bounty on the remaining posse and Evans finds himself fighting alone.

This is a perfectly well made and well-played film, although for a western the landscape fails to enthral, as surely it must. Russell Crowe is, well, Russell Crowe bonzer baddie, and Bale gives a typical 'man who would be Daniel Day Lewis' type performance. There are some small annoyances. Before the stagecoach ambush, Prince finds Wade sketching a small prairie bird; this is presumably to indicate another side to the outlaw. Wade appears bored with the whole rigmarole of hold-ups, but lest we think him a saddle softy he shoots a member of his own gang for failing to account for all the stagecoach guards. Wade is charm itself as he sweet-talks himself into the saloon girl's bed, and possibly we can detect Crowe getting his role written up as we go along.

There is plenty of action but some of it seems to be there just to provide action. The point where Wade has the drop on Evans but relinquishes it, when Evans voices his need to win the respect of his son, is no preparation for Wade gunning down his own gang when they fail to obey his command to spare Evans. Wade gets on the prison train to Yuma, gets off for the final bit of gunplay, and then gets on again, without an armed guard in sight. He has already confided to Evans that he has escaped from Yuma a couple of times before, small wonder.

There is nothing wrong with this remake of the 1950s' film, it neither adds to nor detracts from the memory of the original. One cares for the characters in the time it takes to observe their adventures but their hopes and fears and dreams are unlikely to remain a part of ones life beyond that.
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