The first thing I did when I came home from seeing 3:10 To Yuma was take a shower — to get rid of the stink.
This is not the first time Elmore Leonard‘s fifteen-page, brillant-cut-diamond of a story has been “adapted” (i.e., over-filled with hot air) by Hollywood, thought strictly speaking, this version is a remake of the 1957 film staring Glenn Ford (Johnathan Kent, Superman) and Van Heflin (the axe-wielding father in Shane).
Leonard’s original tale has almost enough material for a half-hour TV show. And that includes two commercial breaks. Yeah, there’s some expository conversation about the deputy’s wife and kids, but it’s mainly about two not-so-different men put at cross-purposes: One’s got to get the other on a train to prison, the other wants to escape.
In fact, the deputy’s focus on his duty calls to mind The Continental Op. He’s just a guy on a job, doing the best he can because that’s what he’s paid for.
Most of the original story takes place in a hotel room with the show-down played over the last two pages. There’s no fretting about drought or pointless subplot with a former dance hall singer from back east. All that hooptedoodle was added in ’57.
Well, if that junk was enough to turn the first movie into a minor classic, then even more hooptedoodle should light-up modern box office registers, right?
So they gave Christian Bale’s character an inferiority complex, a wooden leg, and a surly tag-a-long son. And they turned the ruthless, sharkey villain of the piece into a Killer With A Heart Of Gold.
That one second of film, that single moment where the villain does something that runs opposite to his established motives, when he does something that doesn’t serve his purpose — that’s when the whole movie collapses into a narrative black hole.
So, is there anything good about this movie?
Well . . . it LOOKS great. There are some decent action sequences, some good acting. Barmaid Vinessa Shaw was especially fetching, even with her clothes on. I bought Bale as the looser father trying to dredge up two hundred dollars worth of courage and Crowe made for a suitably good bad guy. Peter Fonda being thrown off a cliff was a bonus.
But those morsels cannot redeem Crowe’s cold-blooded-killer lending willing aid to sod-buster Bale, knowing full well his destination isn’t just the train, but a prison cell in Yuma.