James Mangold's great strength as a director is his knowledge of how and why audiences respond to different genres. He presents pristine examples of genre, never really subverting them, but finding a way to infuse them with novelty, strong acting, and classic Hollywood style. 3:10 to Yuma fits that mold perfectly. This time Mangold goes back to the birth of the revisionist Western. The film isn't in the mold of genre busting pictures like The Wild Bunch or McCabe & Mrs. Miller, but more like the films being made at the time the original came out. This new version respects the form of the classic Western, but it adds just enough moral ambiguity to allow for a number of engaging performances. Peter Fonda turns up looking as grizzled as ever, and he has just as much authenticity in this setting as his father did. As Russell Crowe's exceedingly loyal sidekick, Ben Foster maintains a psychotic gleam in his eye that is tempered only by a mixture of admiration and brotherly love whenever he looks at Crowe. Christian Bale broods as well as ever in the role of the good guy forced to win the admiration of his oldest son. But Mangold's film is elevated from good to very good thanks to a marvelous star turn by Russell Crowe as Ben Wade. Crowe combines a formidable physical presence onscreen with a nearly palpable sensitivity, and, more often than not, a sharp intelligence. His Ben Wade needs to be capable of doing just about anything at any point. He certainly has the soul of an artist, as evinced by his gentle, detailed sketchings of a lover; and he most certainly has the steely resolve of a killer. Crowe makes this monster so likable, so full of an inner life, that his every gesture demands an audience's attention. He wears a black hat with such style that he looks like he could hold his own against other legendary Western bad guys. Although the character's final actions leave the viewer with a healthy ambiguity, the movie's final shot ranks among one of the best of the year. A train and a horse, moving out of frame together, shot with such understated affection that Mangold captures the iconography of old Westerns while still finding some new poetry in them. It's the most lyrical moment in the film, capping a very solid straightforward narrative with a moment that reminds everybody that a human being who genuinely loves movies made this one. Mangold has no interest in transcending or subverting genres, because he still finds so much pleasure in them.
by Perry Seibert review