After skating the edges of the Western genre for years, with his 'urban Western' Cop Land and his country western-flavored music biopic Walk the Line, James Mangold has finally taken the plunge and made a full-on Western with 3:10 to Yuma, and the result is a success. While very faithful to the 1957 original -- some scenes are actually recreated word for word -- this film is also Mangold's own, stirring up the same ideas he's always shown interest in. If you're a Mangold fan, you know there are shadings of the classic High Noon situation in all of his films, with the good but under-pressure man standing by his principles as he's deserted by everyone around him, and 3:10 is no exception. This time, the good man is a poor, hobbled rancher named Evans, played by a typically dour Christian Bale. Evans is so broke he's about to go under when an opportunity presents itself -- he can make a fistful of cash if he's brave enough (or stupid enough) to walk a notorious and recently captured gangster named Ben Wade to the train station that will take him to prison.

Stepping into the shoes of Ben Wade is Russell Crowe, who plays the part as though he's certain that he's the film's good guy. When the film first catches up with Wade, he's sullen and bored with the criminal life, and prefers to sit up on a ridge and draw pictures of wild life, while leaving the scheming to his frustrated goons. Not that he's a pacifist -- Wade is a man capable of quick, brutal violence (even with a fork), although not prone to hatred or stupidity or any of the other dull characteristics we'd tend to associate with a man who robs and kills for a living. In fact, Crowe's (and Mangold's) decision to give Wade an abundance of good qualities to cancel out the bad ones may be a bit too much at times -- after all, we don't really want to root for this guy, do we? It's always something of a cheat when a movie tells us that the bad guy has taken many lives in the past, but doesn't really show us that side of him during the film.

In order to score the money, Evans must be an armed escort for Wade at all times, and at one point he must even bring Wade inside his home, where his wife, played by underrated actress Gretchen Mol and son, William, are present and can be influenced by Wade's oily charms. In the 1957 film, it was the wife who came more under the spell of Wade, and in this film it's the son who is more of a target. William is more than frustrated with his one-footed loser of a pop and mouths off on that topic several times, (something that screams artistic license since its hard to imagine any child in old-timey days effectively calling their father a loser to his face.) While in his company, Wade appeals to the boy's fantasies of glamorous gunslingers and tries to plant more seeds of discontent in that restless mind. In many ways, Crowe's character has every advantage in the duel with Evans -- he's got the brains, the social skills and the intuition, not to mention the superior numbers, in the form of his gang, which intends to ride to his rescue.

Among those gang members, there's a standout -- Ben Foster, as number two in charge, Charlie Prince. I've rarely seen a more unhinged bad guy in a Western. Prince is so over-eager, so electrified with his mission that we can see almost from the start that there's no true bond of loyalty between his character and Wade, because Wade is too smart to believe all the hype or to take false flattery to heart. Foster's unnerving performance in this film is certainly deserving of a supporting Oscar nomination, although 3:10 to Yuma isn't the kind of film the Academy typically recognizes. Nevertheless, if he wants a career as a heavy, I'd say he's got it based on this performance alone. Another standout supporting role belongs to Dallas Roberts, who was excellent as Sam Phillips in Mangold's last film and plays a note perfect Ol' West city slicker in this film -- the kind of guy who is always reminding people there's such a thing as 'the law.' Every slippery, lawyerly weasel you've ever seen in a Western is bundled up right here in Roberts' character.

If there's one noticeable flaw in 3:10 to Yuma , it's that the third act doesn't quite come together and gel as much as it should. The most tense, pressurized confrontations between Wade and Evans come closer to the first half of the film than the second half, when the clock is really ticking, and it's hard to say more without giving away major plot developments, but I'll just point out that even if you've never seen the original, you'll be sure -- too sure -- of how the dynamic is going to play out between them long before the film concludes. In other words, there's a great opportunity for ramping up the tensions in the last few minutes, but that opportunity isn't really seized. As a consequence, I found the ending somewhat anti-climactic. Still, fans of Westerns must take note -- here's a simple, yet well-crafted specimen of the genre, made by a director who has been nibbling on the ideas and conceits of the Western genre for many years, and has now sunk his teeth in.