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Hold your horses! The Western is back

Not since “Unforgiven” in 1992 has Hollywood made a contemporary Western that was worth its dust. With Liongate’s remake of “3:10 To Yuma,” based on a short story by Elmore Leonard, the Western is not only back, this version may be one of the best movies of the year.

Viewers who saw the 1957 original will remember Glenn Ford as the self-assured villain Ben Wade, and Van Heflin as the honorable and downtrodden Dan Evans. Others can now take a look at that film as it has just been remastered and released by Sony Home Entertainment.

In the new release, Russell Crowe nails the character of Ben Wade, a cocky, take-what-he-wants cowboy with a loyal posse of men. He steals Dan Evans’ (Christian Bale) cattle to use them to stop and rob the railroad stagecoach of its gold.

After the shoot-out is over and Wade’s men are collecting their loot, Dan and his two sons (Logan Lerman, Benjamin Petry) approach Wade. Dan insists on getting his cattle back, and surprisingly Wade has no problem returning them.

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Wade is caught, but railroad representative Grayson Butterfield (Dallas Roberts) knows he needs help to get the criminal on the 3:10 prison train to Yuma. Already missing one leg he lost in the Civil War, Dan is in no shape to volunteer, but he has no money and is about to lose his ranch. The $200 Butterfield offer entices Dan in, along with wounded bounty hunter Byron McElroy (Peter Fonda) plus a host of misfits.

In one incident after another, the men realize they are no match for Wade’s men, especially psychopath Charlie Prince (Ben Foster). Killing, for him, comes as easy as breathing.

Something happens to Wade while he’s being transported. While he actually believes he’ll manage to break free, even brags about it, something about Dan gets under his skin. Maybe it’s when they park him at Dan’s home where he sees that Dan’s wife Alice (Gretchen Mol) has lost any admiration of her husband and that his boys find little to replicate in their deficient father.

This remake stays close to the original in plot. What makes the newer version an edge-of-your-seat thriller is the snappy dialogue by screenwriters Michael Brandt and Derek Haas, a beautiful and authentic production by director James Mangold (“Walk the Line”) and incredible performances by Bale, Crowe and Foster.

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Crowe (“Cinderella Man”) has the best possible role here. Ben Wade offers one surprise after another. He has great sexual chemistry with a bartender (Vinessa Shaw), quotes Bible verses and sketches things on paper. Zeroing in on Dan, he rarely lets us know if he’s going to let the simple man live or let his gang get at him. Crowe seems especially confident in several scenes where he’s actually funny or wise-cracking some of the great dialogue written for his character.

As he did in “Rescue Dawn,” Christian Bale keeps upstaging himself at every turn. Dan Evans is a man who moves, with every burden he bears increasing the depth of each footprint, and through Bale’s portrayal we feel the pain of every one of those steps. Yet Dan has an undying motivation to do the right thing, no matter what the circumstances. Even when Wade offers more money to let him go than the $200 he’s getting, Dan refuses. He’s figured out whatever pride he can offer his boys about their father has no price.

While bullets flying and men running are a big part of this movie, it’s really the match of wits and gumption that makes “3:10 To Yuma” so engaging. It’s one ride you may want to take more than once.