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'Yuma' Brings Back Western Movie Genre


Now from the Arctic tundra to the American West. Western movies used to be thick on the land, but they've become scarce at the multiplex.

Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION critic Kenneth Turan welcomes a new one.

KENNETH TURAN: "3:10 to Yuma" feels familiar and not just because it's a remake of a classic 1957 western. Almost every plot point is a venerable item that has been a genre standard for decades, from psycho gunslingers and savage Apaches to doctors who say that bullet has to come out.

(Soundbite of movie, "3:10 to Yuma")

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) What time is it?

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (As character) Ten past three.

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) Where's the 3:10 to Yuma?

Unidentified Man #2: (As character) Running late, I suppose.

TURAN: But familiarity doesn't breed contempt in this new version starring Russell Crowe as a charismatic outlaw and Christian Bale as the downtrodden rancher who crosses his path.

The rancher's desperate need for money puts him on a posse of men determined to get the outlaw on that train to the federal penitentiary in Yuma.

And James Mangold directs it all with such energy and passion, it's as if he didn't know it's all been done before. Mangold is best known for the Johnny Cash biopic "Walk the Line." He approaches this material with the enthusiasm of a famished man confronting his first square meal in days.

Christian Bale plays a rancher coping with the woes of Job. No one, from his family to his cattle, gives him any respect. So when his wife says to him, no one will think less of you, he snaps back, no one can think less of me. Ouch.

Outlaw legend Ben Wade is, by contrast, at the top of his game. He robs stagecoaches at will. His word is law as far as his vicious gang of miscreants is concerned, and he is much comforted by the biblical verse he is fond of quoting: every wicked man is right in his own heart. Only the long arm of coincidence has the strength to connect these two men.

(Soundbite of movie, "3:10 to Yuma")

Unidentified Man #3 (Actor): (As character) That's Ben Wade they have up there.

Unidentified Man #4 (Actor): (As character) What's he's doing?

Unidentified Man #3: (As character) The railroad intends to put him on the 3:10 to Yuma and hang him.

(Soundbite of horse neighing)

Unidentified Man #3: (As character) We will give you 200 cash dollars to any man who shoots any one of his captors.

TURAN: A final word must be said for Ben Foster, whose portrait of psycho-in-chief Charlie Prince is one of "3:10 to Yuma's" signature elements. Foster's gleeful villainy owes more than a little to Lee Marvin in "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance."

But everything about this energetic film owes something to somebody, and that turns out to be not a bad thing at all.

MONTAGNE: The movie is "3:10 to Yuma."

Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kenneth Turan is the film critic for the Los Angeles Times and NPR's Morning Edition, as well as the director of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. He has been a staff writer for the Washington Post and TV Guide, and served as the Times' book review editor.
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