A Hero Makes The 3:10 To Yuma

I caught the sneak preview of the new Western starring Christian Bale and Russell Crowe last night.  Bale’s character, Dan Evans, embarks on a journey to prove himself worthy of his family.  Evans is a rancher down on his luck in the middle of a drought with one sick son, one resentful son and a wife who has lost faith in him.  When Crowe’s character, the outlaw Ben Wade, is caught in town, Evans takes on the job of escorting him to the 3:10 train to Yuma prison, well aware that his gang will be looking to free him.

There will be some spoilers following here, so if you don’t want to know how the film continues don’t keep reading.  I won’t be giving away the ending though.

The journey, or path of trials, Evans takes is one of self-reflection, as the very intelligent Wade begins asking him questions that he often doesn’t want to answer.  It is also a journey of redemption as Evans feels deeply a failure to his family and the $200 payment for the job seems the answer to his problems.  As trial after trial is overcome, Wade begins to respect the man who so singlemindedly wants to provide for his family.  As Wade disposes of Tucker and McElroy for their inherent lack of character, he holds off on Evans.  Despite his protestations to the contrary, there is a reason for that.

The story can be explained simply with a beginning and an end.  The story starts when Evans tells his wife that he needs to do the dangerous job because of “the way my boys look at me and the way you don’t”.  It ends with the look in his older son’s eyes at the end – a look of unadulterated pride.  It’s the story of a simple man who becomes a hero to his family by staying true to his values and sticking to a commitment.

8 Responses to A Hero Makes The 3:10 To Yuma

  1. Rod Peña September 5, 2007 at 10:37 am #

    Dear Matt,

    Skipper and I saw 3:10 on Sunday night, and we were both impressed with the movie. Thinking back, Dan Evans was a perfect example of your argument a few days ago about the middle character as hero.

    You and I both keyed in on the same phrase: “I don’t like the way my boys look at me and the way you don’t” as a turning point in the story. And, at least to me, it is far more heroic to have failed and then to consciously decide to make amends than it is to lead a life of doing unintended good deeds.

    As soon as the movie comes out on DVD, we will purchase it as a teaching tool. Along with Michael Mann’s Heat, it is a perfect teaching tool to explain the nature of the outlaw, and the men who devote their lives to stop them. Such titanic struggles are where heroism is most clearly seen.

  2. Matt Langdon September 5, 2007 at 12:53 pm #

    Thanks for the comment Rod. My friend Chris saw it with me and compared it with Heat as well, if for nothing more than the heavyweight acting chops shown by the two leads.

    Your comment on consciously deciding to do a good deed is aimed at Evans, but what about Wade? How do his acts at the end reflect on his net character? A life of crime that he justified as taking what he wanted was punctuated there with a sacrifice. How do you read that?

  3. Rod September 6, 2007 at 10:59 am #

    Great point, Matt.

    I had originally seen the movie from a Yin-Yang type of perspective, but your insight was one I had not considered. I saw Evan’s son’s appeal to the Wade to reach in to see the good in him as a clarion call of sorts. But whether or not Wade acts out of respect for Evan’s refusal to sacrifice his integrity is what makes the ending so ambiguous and so great.

    Remember that the first time we meet Wade, one of his men fails him, and he shoots him on the spot. Wade makes it a point afterwards to reassert his complete control over his men by giving an action-consequence type of explanation for his actions (i.e., he disobeyed and endangered us in the process, so he had to die.)

    Wade could have killed his men at the end out of pure respect for Evans. Then again, he could have shot his men because they disobeyed his express wishes for them not to kill Evans. He gets into the train to make Mr. Railroad man believe Evans fulfilled his agreement, thus compelling him to give the boy the $1,000. Yet, by whistling for his horse, I got the impression that Wade would just pick up exactly where he had left off despite his sympathy for Evans. Do his actions redeem him for all his crimes? We don’t know, because we can’t truly gauge his intent in trying to help Evans. We only know that just because a man can read a bible cover to cover in three days and have perfect recall of chapter and verse, it doesn’t mean the he will walk a path of righteousness.

    Just as in Heat, and–come to think of it–the season one finale of David Milch’s Deadwood, dramas that teach us best what heroism is showcase two diametric opposites that can be seen as complements in another light. When we see the darkness in the hero, he seems more human to us. When we see the light in the villain, he seems more human to us. When left in the hands of great craftsmen as Mangold in 3:10…, Mann in Heat, and Milch in Deadwood, we can see that, in a perfect world, both men could have been the best of friends.

    Those are my favorite kind of dramas, and some of my favorite teaching tools.

    Thanks for sparking introspection, my friend…

  4. Matt Langdon September 6, 2007 at 2:44 pm #

    Wow, thanks again. I talked to Chris about this again last night and started looking at Wade’s attitude toward Evans throughout the movie. Right from their first meeting Wade seems to respect Evans for his lack of fear (which may just be a desperate need to survive) in demanding his cows back. Then, when Wade is taking his time leaving town, sauntering down the stairs in the bar, he is again intrigued by Dan’s fearlessness, especially when he’s caught.

    Our take last night was that Wade respects Evans from the start and it affects all of his actions. His respect is increased when he sees his home, when he sees the sacrifices Dan makes. In stark contrast we see his complete lack of respect for many others – his gang member who he kills to make a point, the bounty hunter, and finally (perhaps?) the whole gang at the end when he realises how little respect they deserve. Wade’s offer to buy escape from Evans in this light looks like an attempt to save Dan’s life after repeatedly trying to get Dan to go home.

    Wade’s admission that he had been to Yuma prison twice before and escaped told us that he didn’t intend on staying there and calling his horse after him just reinforced that, but perhaps he was planning to start over without the gang forcing him to be Big Bad Dan Wade.

    Or am I reading too much into all of this? Was the turning point when Dan Evans admitted his desperation to turn from coward into hero as the escape was starting to fail? Was it that simple?

    As you said, the shades of gray are what we need to truly appreciate our heroes and their villains.

  5. Sai September 17, 2007 at 12:06 pm #

    This is what I think about Ben Wade – He plays the part of the Devil tempting a person to commit the sin of throwing away their integrity and honor.
    He lost both his parents and he has not found a single good person his whole life. He sees no wrong in killing such people in cold blood.
    In Evans he sees the first person who is actually standing up to him. He thinks he can break him just like all the other people he has met (illustrated by how he predicts the railroad man will leave at the end). He has escaped out of Yuma twice already, so he can do it again. Yuma is not his concern at all. He tries to buy Evans not just with money (he offers him his entire share….suggesting there is no limit to what Evans could ask him )but also by talking about his son’s life and the hopeless situation they are in. Evans does not give up, but at this point Wade just thinks that Evans is just stubborn. Later when he comes to know of the true reason why Evans is doing all this, he realizes that honor, sacrifice do exist and good does exist. He helps Evans gain his honor back. He is a changed man at that point. Evans’ son looks at Evans like he looked at Wade in the beginning of the movie. Wade kills of the gang because he is not a gangster anymore. In Evans’ actions, he has found what he has been looking for his whole life.

  6. Matt Langdon September 17, 2007 at 12:10 pm #

    They’re some great points Sai. Thanks a lot for adding to the conversation. I like the observation that Dan’s son looks at him in the same way as he’d looked at Wade earlier in the story.

  7. ray December 1, 2010 at 2:37 am #

    I have to do a project for my writing class and I’m kind of having trouble. Im trying to make a comic strip that in some way makes fun of Ben wade or Dan evans. Heroism is the topic of my comic strip. Any ideas?
    i really need help..im lost 🙁

    • Matt December 1, 2010 at 5:43 pm #

      Ray, I’m not sure I can help you make fun of either of the characters – they were both pretty serious guys.