The original 3:10 to Yuma — newly remastered for DVD in conjunction with the remake — was an "adult" Western, shot in black-and-white with a pair of second-tier stars, Glenn Ford and Van Heflin, as the charismatic outlaw and the beleaguered cattle rancher reincarnated here by Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. Suspense trumped violence, and chin music rivaled fisticuffs (much of the movie was confined to a single hotel room) as the rancher, not altogether willingly, assumed responsibility for ensuring that the outlaw boarded the train to the federal pen at Yuma.
Based on a story by Elmore Leonard, 3:10 to Yuma had an obvious kinship to High Noon, which appeared five years earlier. In both, a lone citizen is pitted against an insouciant criminal (and his gang) and confounded by a social order too craven to defend itself. The various moral issues are subsumed by the 11th Commandment that a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. If 3:10 to Yuma lacked High Noon's stripped-down drama, it strove for additional psychological complexity in contrasting two American types: the stolid Everyman and the charming sociopath. In one of its most resonant bits, Yuma juxtaposes Heflin's dutiful marriage with Ford's passionate seduction of a lonely barmaid.
Mangold sticks close to Delmer Daves' 1957 version but, given an extra half-hour to play with, opens up the scenario to include a run-in with hostile Apaches and an interlude involving the construction of the railroad. Crowe, overly familiar as the charming outlaw, lacks the shifty menace that Ford brought to the part, but Bale makes a credibly determined action hero. The best performance belongs to Peter Fonda. Tough, terrific and totally unrecognizable as a bounty hunter, this cantankerous old hippie is so leathery, he deserves his own line of rawhide apparel.
Back in the day, America used the Western to ponder certain things — among them the nature of right and wrong and the basis of the social contract. Mangold's movie is certainly louder in its ruminations than Daves'. Like, how does a man get to be a man? The key conflict isn't even between Bale and Crowe but between the ineffectual rancher — who is hobbled not only by debt but also by a leg wound suffered as a Union infantryman — and his 14-year-old son (Logan Lerman). All it takes is one look at Dad's floppy hat, compared with Crowe's stiff-brimmed derby, to grasp the depth of the son's shame.
Mangold is always willing to crank up the volume, and not just in his use of Freudian symbols. The opening stagecoach robbery is mega-ballistic: The coach has a Gatling gun, and a shotgun fired by one of Crowe's gang packs a bazooka's wallop. The body count dwarfs that of the original; the townspeople here are an even scurvier lot. The climactic final shootout unfolds in a virtual war zone.
Even blown out of proportion, this story still works. What's lost in Mangold's rough-hewn exercise in barroom-brawl baroque is the original one-on-one. Much of the original consists of the outlaw testing and tempting his captors, the rancher in particular; by distributing Bale's burden among the other characters and emphasizing Crowe's physical prowess over his mental craftiness, Mangold weakens the tale's moral structure. The original's argument becomes purely situational here — per the dictates of contemporary ADD entertainment, moral judgment is always in the moment.