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Friday, 1 February 2008

3.10 to Yuma

After years of revisionist westerns and post-modern westerns, seeing a western done straight seems almost shocking. And director James Mangold’s remake of the 1957 film about a dirt-poor farmer and family man (Christian Bale) who joins a rag-tag posse to escort a captured outlaw (a never-more charismatic Russell Crowe) on the long journey to the train to Yuma prison is about as straight as they come.

Yet as the odds against the farmer mount – the captured outlaw’s gang is hot on their trail, and the posse numbers are constantly shrinking – his stubborn refusal to simply surrender ceases to be a straight-forward plot device (if he gives in, the movie ends) and becomes something much deeper and more powerful.

While Mangold does a fine job of staging the numerous action sequences, and Bale’s performance as a battered man with a core of iron is quietly compelling, it’s Crowe’s electrifying turn as the gang leader that powers this film. Honourable, murderous, and as slyly tempting as any devil, his performance would earn a more media-friendly actor a sack of awards. This gripping adventure isn’t just a great western; it’s a great film.

Anthony Morris
(This review appeared in The Big Issue 14 Jan)

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