This exciting, well-paced, and character-driven film is ALMOST as good as the 1957 original (which stars Glenn Ford and Van Heflin), maybe better in some regards! In terms of the action sequences, this new version is superior. Also, the Southwestern landscape is more eye-catching in color. This is basically a tale of good vs. evil, but w/ a few unexpected twists and turns. It’s based on a short story by Elmore Leonard .
Wounded Civil War vet, Dan Evans (Christian Bale), is desperate for money. His confidence is very low, he’s close to defaulting on a bank loan, and his younger son is ill. One morning, he and his sons witness the aftermath of a Union-Pacific stagecoach robbery (near Bisbee, AZ) while out w/ their herd of cattle.
Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) stays behind for a few hours b/c a sad-eyed, yet elegant, barmaid (played by Vinessa Shaw) catches his eye; his boys ride further south to Mexico. Dan takes a risk, enters the local saloon, and pulls his rifle on the infamous robber. Ben doesn’t look TOO concerned when Dan and a few men, including a grizzled Pinkerton detective named McElroy (veteran actor Peter Fonda), take him into their custody. His gang will come back for him, he knows.
On the way, they all stop at the Evans’ humble ranch and have dinner. In one amusing scene, Dan cuts Ben’s steak for him. Dan’s older son, William (Logan Lerman from Jack & Bobby), is particularly intrigued by the outlaw who seems a stark contrast to his father: dapper, self-assured, and charming.
While the men are out for a spell, Ben chats w/ Dan’s lovely/genteel wife Alice (Gretchen Mol), unsettling her w/ his keen observations. Dan (though he speaks little) knows that Ben is playing head games, trying to work on each man’s insecurities.
Why is Dan offering to escort Ben to the train in Contention? It’s not ONLY b/c of a reward (promised by the railroad)- it’s the principle of the matter. Along the way, the two men argue, fight, share secrets, and rely on each other to survive. A kind of mutual respect develops between them. Will Ben turn out to be “not all bad,” as William thinks?