Tonight I went to see the remake of 3:10 to Yuma. I love love love the 1957 original, which stars Glenn Ford as bad boy Ben Wade and Van Heflin as upright rancher Dan Evans. This remake gets two Warheads, as it got draggy in the middle. Let me elaborate....
The original is basically western noir about a down-and-out rancher making a desperate attempt to save his family by agreeing to get the captured bad guy on the 3:10 train to Yuma prison in exchange for money that will help him keep his ranch through a drought. Not the wisest decision ever, maybe, but one he sticks to. Van Heflin is all worn-out but stolid, like a tree stump you can't get out of your field even if you chop it, burn it, and pull on it until your arms go numb. Glenn Ford is smooth and wily and devastatingly charming, almost always relaxed and acting like he's in charge even though he's the one in handcuffs. You like him, and you fear him because he gets you to like him even though you know all too well he's the bad guy.
A big chunk of the original takes place in a little hotel room where our hero and our villain are waiting for the train to arrive. Things get tenser and tenser as one by one the other people helping keep Wade there turn chicken and leave. Pretty soon it's just Evans, but he won't give up no matter how many of his friends tell him he's an idiot for sticking it out, no matter how many of Wade's gang show up to try to stop him, and no matter how much money Wade offers to pay him for just looking the other way for a minute or two. The movie plays out like the coiled spring inside a pocket watch, things building and building until you think your TV set is gonna explode from the pressure.
In the remake, we have Russell Crowe as Ben Wade and Christian Bale as Dan Evans (I hear originally they wanted Tom Cruise and Eric Bana -- perish the thought!) Now, as much as I love Christian Bale, and I do love him a lot, this is Russell Crowe's movie. The original belonged to Glenn Ford, and Russell does an equally smooth job of owning this one. He's charming and scary, like Ford was, but he's also got this coldness that Ford didn't have. I never got to the point where I thought, "Hey, maybe this guy ain't so bad after all." Even at his nicest, you still felt like he'd cut you down with no more remorse than I'd have when I kill a spider.
Which works. Ford's Wade was lovable, had these lapses of niceness and decency that you couldn't ignore. Crowe's Wade never has lapses of decency -- even when he's doing something that's not evil, you know it's because it serves his purposes. It makes him scarier than Ford, but not quite as complex somehow.
Now about Christian Bale as Dan Evans. Christian can do better. Not that he wasn't lots of fun to watch, all solemn and simmery, but I kept feeling like he was just walking through a lot of scenes, like he knew what marks to hit and what lines to say, but he just didn't quite care. About halfway through the movie, he improved somewhat, so maybe he just didn't like the earlier material or something. Once he got angry and not just determined, scared as well as stubborn, he got interesting. Besides, when he'd get mad, he'd smile and give us a glimpse of his fangs, and then you got the feeling he could stand toe-to-toe with Ben Wade.
But they cut down the amount of time spent inside the hotel room, the stuff that makes the original so much cooler than your run-of-the-mill "take the bad guys to justice" western. Instead we have more scenes involving Wade's gang of cutthroats, who were pretty much all either boring or annoying. And they lengthened the trip from the town where Wade is captured to the town where the train is, even threw in some Indians just to um, spice things up? And we got this long, implausibly drawn-out chase to the station at the end. See, in this new version, Dan Evans lost a foot in the Civil War and wears a wooden prosthetic. I'm sorry, but having him running over rooftops and jumping about just stretched my suspension of disbelief a leeeetle too thin. Then once we got to the train, we had to have more shooting. I hear the director thought that the way the original was done would be too boring for modern audiences, so he put in lots more violence. When will Hollywood stop underestimating the number of intelligent viewers out here? But anyway...
Alan Tudyk is in this! He is never ever dull, is he? I mean, from 28 Days to A Knight's Tale to Firefly to even having a robot based on his performance for I, Robot, I have never been anything but enchanted by him. And he delivers once again. Small part, sweet acting. In fact, he's one of the brightest spots in the film!
One more thing about Russell Crowe's performance -- I especially loved how he would make little tk tk tk noises to his horse to urge him forward, just the way real people do when they ride horses. He also posts really well -- if Dan Evans' son (who tags along in this version and spends most of his time looking young and naive) really admired Ben Wade so much, he should've taken note of how Wade posts while trotting, instead of lurching around like a sack of feed.
BUT they did one thing that really really really really really ticked me off. They changed the ending.
The original ending rocks! It's the perfect capstone to the whole tumultuous almost-friendship that springs up between Wade and Evans. Neither of them stops being who he really is, but they come to understand a little of who the other guy is too.
But in the remake? Nooooooo, we have to make Wade suddenly feel sorry for Evans and decide to help him. And then... (Do NOT read the hidden text if you haven't seen the remake and want to! Otherwise, highlight the next few lines to see what I say.) ...Dan Evans gets killed. Shot by Wade's gang. And Wade proceeds to shoot every single member of his gang in retaliation, then climbs on the train and heads for prison. It was weird and I've gotta say that even as I was hoping and wishing that Wade would do just that after Evans got nailed, it totally didn't fit his character. The Wade in the old version, maybe -- he did nice and decent little things here and there. But this cold, calculating Ben Wade? He woulda high-tailed it.
So yeah, not pleased by the changed ending. Maybe they thought it would be more realistic somehow, instead of sort of nice and neat like the original. But instead they betrayed the characters and it just didn't work. Not for me, anyway.
Oh, one funny note from the credits, and then I'll shut up and post this. All through the credits, when they listed like the drivers and hair stylists and stunt doubles for the stars, they listed them for C. Bale and Ben Wade. Not R. Crowe, Ben Wade. Hmm. Really wondering why they did that. Did Russell request that? Did the person doing the credits think it would be funny? Quite odd. (And people wonder why I sit through all the credits! Because you find weird stuff like this, that's why!)