A review of “3:10 to Yuma” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ****

Rating: R for extreme violence and bloodshed

Run Time: 1 hour, 57 minutes

 

 

I’m a sucker for a sturdy clash-of-the-titans testosterone fest and “Yuma” is the real deal.

The titans in question are Hollywood heavyweights Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, facing off in a Wild West showdown that’s fraught with tension from start to finish.

Bale is the drawn and emotionally quartered Dan Evans, a down-on-his-luck rancher/Union Army vet whose frantically casting about for a way to hang on to his ranch after a local bigwig threatens to repossess his draught-ravaged land for a spanking new railroad project.

Crowe makes nasty as Ben Wade, a ruthless outlaw who heads up a vicious gang of thieving no-goods bent on plundering and pilfering their fortunes. Fate deals Evans a lucky hand when Wade lets his libido get the better of him in a post-raid attack and Evans is party to Wade’s capture.

Frustrated at the beating his railroad has taken at the hands of the Wade Gang, Southern Pacific Railroad boss Grayson Butterfield (Dallas Roberts) wrangles volunteers to help escort his high-profile prisoner to the town of Contention, where he will board the 3:10 train bound for federal lockdown in Yuma.

Evans is the man for the job, for a $200 delivery fee that is. He’s a man on the verge, a heartbeat away from losing it all and willing to lay down his soul to salvage property and family.

Wade is true to form as a malicious scallywag with the gift of gab; a cocky SOB who hones in on Evans’ vulnerability in an attempt to turn it to his advantage. For his part Evans is so rock-bottom that his despair fuels a fire that can’t or won’t be quenched by Wade’s calculating tactics.

Director James Mangold (“Walk the Line”) puts a fresh spin on the ticking clock concept so prevalent in such western classics as “High Noon”. His take is more “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, plumbing the depths of character rather than focusing solely on a central narrative premise.

That premise shows wagon-loads of promise but the core strength of “Yuma” lies in the psychological cat-and-mouse game between outlaws on the brink of destruction; palpable desperation meeting western machismo as the seconds count down to destiny. The atmosphere pointedly caters to the male ego and the dark deliciousness inherent in its complexities.

Both leads exude intelligence, sexuality and varying shades of menace. Lenser Phedon Papamichael vibes an Old West sensibility that manages to look clean and accessible. Ben Foster chews up the scenery as psychotic Wade henchman Charlie Prince and young Logan Lerman is extremely effective as Evans’ teenage son William, who slowly gains back the respect he’s lost for his floundering father.

Yes it’s a remake, based on the 1957 Delmer Daves classic starring Glenn Ford, but “Yuma” has a consciousness all its own. Let’s hear a yippie-kay-ay!