R | 2h 2m | Drama, Action, Western, Crime| 2007
In the first 12 years of his career, James Mangold made seven movies, and there’s not a single stinker in the bunch. He might just be the greatest living American director no one could pick out of a lineup.
While Mr. Mangold’s 2005 effort “Walk the Line” received five Oscar nominations, he and the picture itself were unfairly snubbed, yet it still catapulted Mr. Mangold onto the A-list, giving him carte blanche for his next project. So what does he do? He decided to remake a 1957 Western. Remake? Western? Mr. Mangold was just asking for trouble.
An Aussie and a BritThen there are Russell Crowe (as Ben Wade) and Christian Bale (as Dan Evans). Two of the most talented actors on the planet, the Aussie Crowe and the British Bale are adored by both the critics and the public. They’re men’s men and are perfect for this type of movie.
Wade heads a band of outlaws that has robbed nearly two dozen stagecoaches containing riches guarded by the Pinkerton security agency. He knows how to handle his unruly crew and, more importantly, possesses the wiles, wit, and charm of the Devil himself. His one weakness is the ladies and, after his latest job, he spends a little too much time with one, which leads to his capture.
Evans is everything Wade is not. A handicapped Civil War veteran trying to keep his farm afloat while retaining the dwindling respect of his disgruntled family, he is desperate and riddled with self-doubt, but very clear on matters of duty and honor.
Registering low on the support meter is Evans’s wife Alice (Gretchen Mol) and eldest son William (Logan Lerman), who don’t share his opinions regarding morality and commitment, which makes his next decision all the more difficult.
For the $200 he needs to save his farm, Evans agrees to be part of the questionably able posse escorting Wade to a train station that will transport the serial thief and murderer to his execution in Yuma. Wade’s crew (led by sick-puppy Ben Foster in an Oscar-caliber performance) isn’t about to let their leader slip away that easily, and makes the posse’s already uneasy mission next to impossible.
Based on an original 1953 short story by crime-satirist Elmore Leonard, the screenplay (credited to both Halsted Welles’s 1957 adapted script and Michael Brandt), builds the tension superbly. Mangold keeps the early action scenes down to an absolute minimum and allows both of the lead’s back stories to slowly seep into the narrative without feeling forced or clunky.
Evans hates Wade but respects him. Wade doesn’t respect Evans much but, in his own twisted way, likes him. It all presents a complicated and sizzling dichotomy between the two men, which remains in a constant state of flux and reexamination. They never forget that they’re enemies, but are also aware that each has other more pressing outside forces coming at them from every direction.
A Different EndingMr. Mangold and Mr. Brandt take a huge chance by altering the original’s monumental final scene and, sad to say, it doesn’t quite work, but neither is it a complete sellout. Even those who’ve never seen the original will find glaring contradictions with the new ending, yet no one will be able to discount its searing impact. The American West was settled by men with guns for whom the concept of justice was relative and completely arbitrary. Rarely was it fair, but never was it less than bone-chilling.
After “3:10 To Yuma,” Mr. Mangold helmed the Tom Cruise misfire “Knight and Day,” but regrouped well with “The Wolverine,” “Logan,” and “Ford v Ferrari,” then suffered another quality dip with the colossal box office flop “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.”
Mangold’s next scheduled project is “A Complete Unknown,” a bio-drama starring Timothée Chalamet as singer-songwriter Bob Dylan and, if it’s only half as good as “Walk the Line,” Mangold will add another winner to his already impressive résumé.