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3:10 to Yuma (2007): An Ambiguous Look at Good and Evil

What makes a man good? What makes a man evil? These questions are tougher to answer than we truly realize. In 2007’s 3:10 to Yuma, many of the characters we meet in this western frontier check off boxes in both categories. This film follows Civil War vet, Dan Evans (portrayed by Christian Bale), as a struggling ranch owner who helps a band of Pinkertons and good samaritans to deliver notorious outlaw, Ben Wade (portrayed by Russell Crowe), to a prison train before his gang catches the group to free Wade from captivity.

As far as action movies go, they are more likely to be driven by story convenience rather than character choices. However, with 3:10 to Yuma (2007), this is quite the opposite. We are given an inside look into Dan Evan’s mind within the first few minutes as he sees his barn being set ablaze by loan sharks. Everyone, including his wife and eldest son William (portrayed by Logan Lerman) learns he borrowed money from his landlord in order to buy supplies for the ranch. It tells us he’s desperate and trying to keep his family together. On a more subtle level though, it seems Evans kept this loan from his family out of shame, since he has been trying to provide for them ever since he lost his leg in the war. Later on, we are given our first glimpse of Ben Wade, who doesn’t seem like a hardened criminal but more like a man enjoying some peace as he sketches a nearby bird on a branch. It is intriguing to introduce our protagonist and antagonist in these manors. As we instantly sympathize with Evan’s situation as he grows more desperate, and envy the calm that Wade is enjoying.

Most of you probably wouldn’t realize that 3:10 to Yuma (2007) is actually a remake of a 1957 western of the same name. While they are both similar in story and title, that’s as far as the similarities go. Where these two diverge is in character depth and the interactions with our protagonist and antagonist. On the way to Contention, where the prison train to Yuma is, Wade is curious as to why Evans is in the group. Everyone else he understands as they either have a bone to pick with Wade, or are being paid handsomely. Evans, however, is being paid very little and has no true quarrel with the coolheaded outlaw, making him the odd man out. It isn’t until Wade finally had enough of the “hero” act Evans put on does he finally realize the true motivations of his captor. Dan isn’t a hero, but he wants his son to be proud of him, since his eldest son always saw him as a coward. This happened after Dan told his son the story of how he lost his leg, which was shot off by one of his own guys in a hasty retreat. Wade almost can’t comprehend it, as if almost dumbfounded; but Wade likes Dan’s son, so he agrees to go the rest of the way to the train. This was just as revealing to Wade’s character as it was to Dan’s. Wade may not be that notorious outlaw as others perceive him to be, even if he refuses to admit it to himself, and while Dan might not be perfect both admit to themselves that isn’t a bad thing.

What this film doesn’t lack is shocking moments, as many don’t come out of left field but are executed with each choice feeling deliberate and natural. Like at the climax of the film, when Wade is successfully boarded onto the 3:10 to Yuma, Dan is shot in the back by one of Wade’s gang. As Wade’s and Evans’s relationship reaches its end, Wade’s number 2, Charlie Prince (portrayed by Ben Foster), gives Wade back his infamous pistol dubbed, “The Hand of God”. After the journey Wade had, he grew to respect this rancher and for him to be shot down like he was. This character decision by Prince becomes the catalyst for the most shocking and intense moment of the film, as Wade guns down his entire gang before any of them can even draw their weapons out.

Believe it or not, this was directed by the same man who did Walk the Line (2005) and Logan (2017). Director James Mangold gave a slow and tense ride through the west as our protagonist and antagonist grow to respect each other more and more. While they may not have given the truest definition of good and evil, Christain Bale and Russell Crowe are able to find that grey area where people can be both. Making each character and their past decisions made for either family or business have more emotional weight, along with the mutual respect they gave each other helped them get to where they were supposed to be. They even leave the movie open ended with Ben Wade heading off on the 3:10 to Yuma with his horse following closely behind. Meaning we might not have heard the last of Ben Wade if you know what I mean!

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