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Originally published September 7, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 27, 2007 at 3:29 PM

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Movie review

"3:10 to Yuma" is right on track

There are some things you have to do to be a man. Such as ordering whiskey instead of water, no matter how badly you need to rehydrate. Or taking on the suicidal...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Movie review 3.5 stars

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"3:10 to Yuma," with Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Ben Foster, Peter Fonda, Gretchen Mol, Alan Tudyk and Logan Lerman. Directed by James Mangold, from a screenplay by Halsted Welles, Michael Brandt and Derek Haas.

117 minutes. Rated R for violence and some language.

There are some things you have to do to be a man. Such as ordering whiskey instead of water, no matter how badly you need to rehydrate. Or taking on the suicidal task of escorting a deadly criminal to a prison-bound train with his killer gang in pursuit.

The latter drives the action in "3:10 to Yuma," the amped-up, hugely entertaining remake of the classic 1957 Glenn Ford Western. You don't need to be a fan of that near-extinct genre to enjoy the movie — sold more as a faceoff between Alpha males Russell "Gladiator" Crowe and Christian "Batman" Bale — but it may turn you into one.

Bale plays lame-legged Civil War vet Dan Evans, a beaten-down rancher whose land has gone as arid as his wife's (Gretchen Mol) affection. His eldest son (Logan Lerman) doesn't bother hiding his contempt for the debt-ridden man after a loan-shark titleholder's thugs torch their barn. Evans is tired of the way the boy looks at him and his wife doesn't.

But he's no match for Ben Wade (Crowe), the infamous and charismatic leader of a gang that carries out a spectacular stagecoach robbery that would sober up Sam Peckinpah long enough to make him wonder, Why didn't I think of an exploding horse, damn it? Wade's ruthless enough to blast one of his own men for an infraction, but he's also got an artist's tortured soul, penciling expert sketches during quiet moments and musing with a barmaid he's conquered about disappearing to Mexico. See, he ain't all bad.

At the end of his rope, the desperate Evans signs on to get Wade onto a rope of his own after the outlaw gets caught. For enough money to get out of debt — and maybe some redemption with his family — he joins a group of men transporting Wade to a town called Contention, where they'll put him on board the train for Yuma prison. But it's a long, dangerous trip that forces Wade and Evans into one hairy situation together after another. And Wade's gang is in pursuit, led by his fanatically loyal second in command (Ben Foster).

"3:10" may not exactly be a legendary team-up of titans like De Niro and Pacino in "Heat," but it's a great vehicle for Crowe and Bale — completely different types of actors — that gives them as many satisfying action scenes together as dramatic exchanges. Combining the kind of latent explosiveness that should have gotten him an Oscar for "L.A. Confidential" with a layer of manipulative charmer, Crowe is a thrill to watch go to work. And Bale's performance doesn't seem weighted by an ounce of vanity as Evans struggles with issues that transcend the "High Noon" predicament he's in.

The standout supporting cast includes surprisingly ferocious Peter Fonda as a surly, gut-shot Pinkerton, and Alan Tudyk ("Death at a Funeral," "Firefly") as an affable doctor.

Maybe I'd complain if they hanged me with a new rope, but a fistful of things hinder "3:10." As entertaining as Foster's psycho is, he's too cartoonish for his surroundings. They don't quite sell a big character shift near the end. And in such a lawless, savage frontier, they could have just shot Wade or strung him up on the spot. But you're not going to bother with fancy city logic when the bullets start flying and these two dudes swing into action.

Mark Rahner: 206-464-8259 or mrahner@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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