I was delighted to find that the latest version of the Elmore Leonard story and a fairly close remake of the 1957 western was more in tune with its predecessors and did surprisingly little to majorly alter or completely rebuild the plot of the tale.
It is more or less the same: a poor rancher happens upon a stagecoach robbery and, witnessing it, goes into town to help capture the man responsible; once caught, he agrees to help bring the man to justice and transport him to the next train to prison in a nearby town. This basic plot is, of course, filled with complications as various things intrude upon the rancher's ability to get the man to the train, the titular 3:10 to Yuma.
In this iteration, Christian Bale plays the rancher and was an excellent choice, bringing a high level of emotion and character to the role. For his part, Russel Crowe does his best to meet up to the standard Glenn Ford set in the original film as the charismatic criminal leader of a cowboy gang and does surprisingly well in the role, adding a viciousness that he shifts into with ease to top off the charm that he bleeds out in every relaxed moment. Bale, for his part, also adds more meat to his role by taking the aged rancher of the original and turning him into a younger Civil War veteran with a missing leg, desperate to keep his family together.
Changes do abound, though mainly in the adding of detail throughout, as opposed to huge brushstrokes that would change the film entirely. For one, the bandits are vastly more vicious and the body count is massive in comparison the earlier film, to be expected from the 50's, but this film piles up the dead, murdering every character that isn't necessary to the plot. The gang that sets out to keep their boss from prison is also more bloody, different from the playfully evil group of the original, seething with anger and violence that even Crowe doesn't possess. Ben Foster, as Crowe's right-hand man does a particularly good job and plays it to the hilt with a murderous glee that harkens to other steel-eyed heavies like Jeff Fahey in Silverado and Michael Biehn in Tombstone.
The plot is filled out with a longer trip to get to the town of Contention to make the train, several characters losing their lives in events along the way, and various other plot conflicts and complications keeping it from the smooth and quick jaunt that the earlier film displayed. Also, the end sequence is somewhat unnecessarily ramped-up to make it even more improbable than previous.
The only issues the film has exist in the end of the film, where, first, Crowe's character turn seems more inexplicable given the lengths this version goes to in showing his violent nature, as opposed to Ford's more playfully villainous character, who seems more good-hearted than Crowe lets on to be. This mild confusion isn't nearly as uncomfortable as the change to the ending, a drastically more bleak and unhappy end to the affair that adds a spot of additional meaning, but at the cost of there being no happy conclusion for the film's audience, not a necessity but definitely nice to have after a film such as this. The playful end of the original is crushed in darkness and blood, which is not bad but very, very different.
The excellent lead cast is rounded out by wonderful actors like Peter Fonda, Alan Tudyk, and Gretchen Mol, even featuring a strange cameo by Luke Wilson. The direction itself, while not flashy, is just as strong and competent as the actors involved and the whole film works well and cohesively, though lacking the satisfaction of other Western tales.