There's something reassuring about unapologetic genre flicks—they're like comfort food, the cinematic equivalent of macaroni and cheese, or hot chocolate, or peanut butter and jelly. Sure, sometimes it's nice to be caught off guard, but other times, it's a-okay to know exactly what to expect.
Director James Mangold's last film was the Johnny Cash tribute Walk the Line, a perfectly serviceable entry into the genre of the cheesy biopic, and one that handily accomplished its twin goals of (A) tugging on heartstrings, and (B) snagging an Oscar or two. Walk the Line wasn't anything extraordinary, but it worked out just fine, I guess; likewise, Mangold's 3:10 to Yuma doesn't have any delusions of grandeur. It just sets out to be a decent enough Western, and it pretty much succeeds.
Based on Elmore Leonard's short story (previously adapted in 1957 by director Delmer Daves and star Glenn Ford), this 3:10 features an impressive cast (Christian Bale and Russell Crowe), some gorgeous New Mexico scenery, and a checklist of Western standards/clichés: mopey and leather-faced men, dusty shootouts, a bloody holdup.
3:10 to Yuma's rote familiarity is Mangold's fault, not the actors'—Bale and Crowe both handle their roles with confidence and charm. Bale, as hard-luck rancher Dan Evans, exudes a weary sort of determination, while Crowe, as charismatic outlaw Ben Wade, offers up his considerable appeal and all-around badass-ness. As Bale's troubled Evans agrees to help escort the murderin' Wade to trial, shit hits the fan: Wade's men stage a rescue, the treacherous Wade tries to escape, and Evans is forced to reconsider not only his beliefs, but those of his wiseass teenage son (Logan Lerman).
And that's about how it goes, straight up and unsurprising, with two solid actors doing their thing against unforgiving landscapes and dusty towns while a stolidly unimaginative director keeps things rolling along. There are a few moments that raise an eyebrow—in a holdup, a horse carrying a few sticks of dynamite explodes as if it were a gasoline tanker in The Matrix, and at one point, there's a truly befuddling Luke Wilson cameo. But for the most part, 3:10 to Yuma is so standard that it feels as if it were made in the '40s or '50s, when Westerns were common and generic, before Sergio Leone in the '60s, before Clint Eastwood's excellent Unforgiven resurrected and revitalized the genre in 1992, or even before 2005, when two great films—John Hillcoat's The Proposition and Tommy Lee Jones' The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada—reshaped the genre. The Western has changed, and mostly for the better, in the past few decades—but you wouldn't know it to look at the insular 3:10 to Yuma, a film that's utterly content with worn templates of noble heroes and scheming rogues. It's all perfectly enjoyable, and even a bit comforting—even if, by its end credits, one wishes they'd seen Crowe and Bale go down a path that didn't feel quite so well trod.