3:10 to Yuma (Lionsgate)
James Mangold not only remade the 1957 original, he improved upon it. A surprise of 2007 was this period Western that served its genre tropes straight up. Harsh but unflaggingly entertaining, it isn't "ironic" or "revisionist" and doesn't "deconstruct" a damn thing. It's been a long time since we've had a wave of good Westerns, especially with a cast this strong, so 3:10 to Yuma can play it straight and still provides something fresh and artful, modern and thrilling.
Russell Crowe is utterly spellbinding as the murderous, charming, morally complex Arizona outlaw Ben Wade. Christian Bale is Dan Evans, a transplanted Massachusetts rancher in dire straits. Having lost a foot in the Civil War, the earnestly decent and (it turns out) suppressed Evans needs cash to protect his ravaged property and provide for his wife (Gretchen Mol) and sons. "I'm tired of watching my boys go hungry," he tells her bitterly. "I'm tired of the way that they look at me. I'm tired of the way that you don't." So he signs on to accompany the gradually diminishing number of men transporting Wade to a prison train. It's a trip that has every likelihood of being a suicide mission.
As the journey carries the two men through Apache territory's nowhere desert towns and wilderness, an uneasy bond builds between them, one that rubs against Evans' bone-deep principles and wry, smooth-talking, observant Wade's less confined version of his own. The psychologies of the two men emerge and tangle and drive one another to action, especially after Wade's loyal gang arrives, making 3:10 to Yuma a rare character-driven and humanistic action-thriller Western.
From the early stagecoach ambush, hooves a-thunder, to the climactic bloodbath of a train station shoot-out, the violence is sudden and brutal -- all those bullets sure sound awesome on the DVD surround-sound -- yet displays not a single gratuitous stroke as it supports the movie's classic Western themes of honor, courage, manly respect and gun-enhanced power. Mangold's film is more than sufficiently subtexty and cynical for our modern sensibilities while simultaneously embracing Mangold's obvious pleasure in the Westerns' time-honored swinging saloon doors and stern masculine traditions. Also worth a look are Peter Fonda as a bounty hunter, young Logan Lerman as Evans' impulsive teenage son disenchanted by his father and needing a hero to admire, Ben Foster as the worshipful gunslinger Charlie Prince, and Alan Tudyk as Doc Potter, who's a long way from his veterinary practice.
Lionsgate's DVD impresses our boots off with a superb -- seriously, it's fantastic -- image (widescreen anamorphic 2.40:1) and fully immersive Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX audio. The DVD extras are rather ordinary, starting with the routine but informative audio commentary by director James Mangold. The prefab "making of" featurette, "Destination Yuma," delivers the expected behind-the-scenes footage plus input from the cast and crew. "Outlaws, Gangs and Posses" brings us historians and academics discussing legendary Wild West bad hombres. "An Epic Explored" gives us more interviews with the cast and crew, this time focusing on the Western as a film genre. Seven brief deleted scenes don't add much to the package, but then they don't really need to.
A Blu-ray edition offers English PCM 7.1 Surround and additional featurettes.