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Director James Mangold explains the links between Sylvester Stallone’s Sheriff Freddy Heflin in Cop Land, and his remake of the 1957 Western, 3:10 To Yuma, and how he wanted to tell the Elmore Leonard story with contemporary perspectives, with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale in the lead roles.

Originally published in 1953 in Dime Western Magazine, Elmore Leonard's short story, 3:10 to Yuma, reached the screen four years later in a film directed by Delmer Daves from a screenplay by Halsted Welles. The plot is simple: a cash-strapped rancher, Dan Evans, volunteers to escort infamous outlaw Ben Wade to a prison-bound train. Leonard recalls that he wrote the story because he was short of money – and he thought it might make a movie. Considering it took four years to get to the screen, and that Dime Western’s rates weren’t that big, we have to assume Leonard had other ways of earning some cash.

"the questions the film asked about morality, courage, honour and family were very sophisticated"

Director James Mangold was 17 when he first saw the 1957 western and it made a lasting impression on him. “It startled me because the questions the film asked about morality, courage, honour and family were very sophisticated. The characters of Ben Wade and Dan Evans are much more complicated than simple black and white hats, and the story presented not only the potential for action but also a kind of claustrophobia -- unique among westerns -- one that forces these opposite characters into a very close and intense proximity.” Presumably the 17 year old Mangold didn’t express it quite so eloquently but responded more viscerally at the time.

Indeed, Mangold drew inspiration from 3:10 To Yuma in writing and directing his second feature, Cop Land (1997), a rather dark but well made drama starring Sylvester Stallone as an unassuming small-town sheriff who faces down a group of corrupt New York City cops. "In fact, I named the main character, Sheriff Freddy Heflin, after Van Heflin, who played Dan Evans in the original film."

Mangold began to seriously entertain the notion of remaking 3:10 To Yuma while directing Identity (2002) for Columbia Pictures, which owned the film rights. "It struck me: why not actually try to tackle the original film and the original story ideas from a modern perspective?" he says. Not to mention the allure of a drama set in places with names like Yuma, Contention and Bisbee! "Sometimes the most attractive land is the land that hasn’t been ploughed lately and the western seemed to me to have been abandoned in the last decade. Yet it's such an integral part of American moviemaking."

The legendary outlaw, Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) and his gang have just robbed an armed stage coach carrying the Southern Pacific Railroads payroll. They kill everyone onboard except the Pinkerton security guard, Byron McElroy (Peter Fonda) whom Wade shoots in the belly. Poor rancher Dan Evans (Christian Bale) and his two sons find McElroy and take him to Bisbee, Arizona, to find a doctor. Wade, in town without his gang, is captured. Railroad representative Grayson Butterfield (Dallas Roberts) asks for paid volunteers to join the posse to take Wade to the train station in the town of Contention three days away. The train is due at 3:10, and they must put Wade on the train's prison car bound for Yuma, where he will receive a quick trial in Federal Court and be hanged. Evans, desperately needing money to save his farm, signs on for $200. But Charlie Prince (Ben Foster), Wade's right hand man, sees what has happened to Wade, and goes after the rest of the gang to help liberate Wade. Evan's desire to redeem himself in the eyes of his sons and to get Wade on the train turns it into a battle for Evans’ honour and self respect, which in turn affects Wade.

"Wade.... the equivalent of a modern rock star,"

Talking about the characters, co-writer Derek Haas says, "Wade is tough and glamorous, the equivalent of a modern rock star. He's the guy that everybody wants to be -- except when you're the guy holding the gun on him." Wade's dangerous appeal is central to the new film's exploration of hero -- and anti-hero -- worship. In fleshing out that theme, the filmmakers chose to expand the role of Will Evans, who was seen in only a handful of scenes in the original film. In the new version, the 14-year-old is enthralled by Wade and sneaks away from home to join the posse escorting the criminal to Contention.

Says Mangold, "It's almost a love triangle, with Dan Evans and Ben Wade vying for the affection of this kid, who is charmed by this killer and bowled over by the fact he is well-mannered, educated and highly intelligent, perhaps even brilliant. Wade, in many ways, embodies a male fantasy: the superman character that is both lethal and gentle. Having Will become more present throughout the film really allowed us to explore the reality of fatherhood, the reality of providing, the reality of being law-abiding versus the fantasy of the life that Ben Wade lives."

Much of these ideas are encapsulated in the scene between Wade and the Pinkerton guard Byron McElroy (Peter Fonda) with whom Wade has some past connection – no details, but we understand it’s not pretty. They hate each other. But when a bitter and angry McElroy curses Wade’s mother, Wade’s violent side flashes up as he sneers “Even bad men love their mothers.”

As veteran film critic Roger Ebert notes, the film “restores the wounded heart of the Western and rescues it from the morass of pointless violence.”

If Mangold was intent on modernizing the western in terms of action and atmosphere, he was equally focused on casting the film “actors who possessed the authority of classic western heroes and villains.

"Russell Crowe.... a clean, crisp, masculine commitment to the role,"

"Russell Crowe was who we always thought of for Wade, and he brings a clean, crisp, masculine commitment to the role,” says Mangold. For Crowe, accepting the part was an easy decision. "I'd wanted to work with Jim for a while and there was a basic energy to the Ben Wade character that I liked," he explains. Wade is a man of implacable resolve and lightning judgment; a man who does him wrong can expect no mercy. Crowe believes his character's stern perspective is hard-earned and colours his every action. "There's a scene where Wade discusses a time when he read the Bible from cover to cover, and the reasons why he read the Bible from cover to cover. That, to me, is the central core of who Ben is. It wasn't a very pleasant experience for him when he read the Bible cover to cover, and I kind of took the attitude that he doesn't believe in a benevolent God. He got stuck somewhere in the Old Testament, and hasn't come out of there yet."

As Mangold describes the reluctant hero, "Dan Evans is a man who is living life tied back, limping along trying to deal with the obstacles getting thrown at him. That made it interesting to cast someone with the kind of strength that Christian has. Christian has a kind of intensity and integrity that leaps out of his eyes. I think it makes for a really noble character, someone you identify with."

Published January 17, 2008

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James Mangold

3:10 TO YUMA
Producer: Cathy Konrad
Director: James Mangold
Screenplay: Michael Brandt, Derek Haas (short story by Elmore Leonard)
Cast: Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Peter Fonda, Logan Lerman, Dallas Roberts, Ben Foster, Vinessa Shaw, Alan Tudyk, Luce Rains, Gretchen Mol, Lennie Loftin, Rio Alexander, Johnny Whitworth, Shawn Howell
Australian release: January 31, 2008 (Hoyts Distribution)

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