Tuesday, July 10, 2012

3:10 to Yuma (2007)

Below is an analysis essay comparing the film 3:10 to Yuma to its short story by Elmore Leonard.

Transport to Contention

Character-driven stories, in this case, a western, are particularly fascinating as they resonate with the reader or audience, allowing them to interpret the reasons behind each character's actions. For this reason, 3:10 to Yuma is unique from other typical westerns featuring horseback chase sequences, sharpshooters with cigars hanging from their mouths, or vengeful duels in the glaring sun. Set in 1884, this is a compelling film released in 2007 with the screenplay written in collaboration by Halsted Welles, Michael Brandt, and Derek Haas and adapted from Elmore Leonard’s short story, published in 1953. In both versions, a notorious outlaw arrested for multiple robberies and murders must be escorted to a train heading to Yuma. In the short story by Elmore Leonard, outlaw Jim Kidd is led by Deputy Paul Scallen with a shotgun to the train station, primarily focusing on the tense finale in the booming town of Contention. On the other hand, director James Mangold’s adaptation depicts the events leading up to that point as the struggling rancher Dan Evans involves himself in the arrest of outlaw Ben Wade in the town of Bisbee, later leading him to the train station in Contention in order to provide for his family. Although Elmore Leonard’s “3:10 to Yuma” seems more sensible in the motives behind each character’s actions, the characters are bland in comparison to those in its adaptation. Therefore, while the deputy and outlaw stay true to their characters in the short story, its film adaptation 3:10 to Yuma is superior due to the character transformations of Dan Evans and Ben Wade.
While both versions are unrealistic in terms of action sequences, the short story’s character motivations are more realistic. In both cases, it seems quite improbable that Paul Scallen would survive the final shootout while being surrounded by Jim Kidd’s gang or that Dan Evans would be able to reach the train station after facing a town-full of armed men in spite of his sharpshooter skills and military experience. But action scenes aside, the characters are more believable in the short story than in 3:10 to Yuma. In the film adaptation, Evans has nearly every reason to drop the job and return to his family alive. He recovers his relationship with his son, William, who now looks up to Evans after witnessing his courageous acts and begs him to come home. In addition, Ben Wade repeatedly urges Evans to take his money to provide for his family and restore his farm. However, Evans insists on transporting Wade on the train to Yuma, even if this requires sacrificing his life. On the contrary, it makes more sense for deputy Paul Scallen to risk his life for justice by having Jim Kidd hanged for his numerous crimes. That is his job, which is shown when Jim Kidd states, “You risk your neck to save my life, now you’ll risk it again to send me to prison” (32). Paul Scallen is paid to enforce the law. Furthermore, the fact that Jim Kidd would retain his image as the villain with no remorse if Scallen were to be killed is more realistic and expected as he merely respects Scallen for his loyalty to the law and skillfulness. He has no reason to help Scallen accomplish his job because neither of them revealed their personal lives to each other as in the film adaptation and Scallen is perfectly capable, portrayed as a more typical hero in a western. Compared to the unconventional, yet more entertaining ending of the film adaptation, “3:10 to Yuma”, Elmore Leonard’s version has more realism, a prevalent style in most of his work consisting of gritty crime thrillers.

In comparison to Paul Scallen, Dan Evans is a far more fascinating character due to his transformation and how his values dictate his actions. Once both characters are on the train to Yuma, Scallen finally smiles and “suddenly felt closer to [Kidd] than any man he knew” (32). There is simply not enough backstory or interaction between the two characters behind this vague statement especially since not much is known about either. As the two men wait in a hotel room for the train to arrive, Jim Kidd asks, “What made you join the law,” and Scallen answers, “the money” (28). Both Paul Scallen and Dan Evans are initially driven by money; however, this is where their motivations diverge. In the end, Scallen remains primarily concerned with money, asserting that he, “really earned [his] hundred and a half” (35). While this ending is interesting and satisfying, it does not result in a large emotional impact as the film does. Before Scallen steps out onto the streets and confronts Jim Kidd’s gang, he, “kept asking himself if it was worth it” (32). In the context of the short story, opening fire on a group of armed men with no backup does not seem as “worth” the risk as Dan Evans’s more personal reasons for carrying out the responsibilities of the deputies of Bisbee. What makes the film substantially more moving is how each character unveils their true character and inner secrets throughout the journey to Contention. As Ben Wade attempts to escape, Dan Evans exposes the truth that, "I ain't never been no hero, Wade. Only battle I seen, we was in retreat. My foot got shot off by one of my own men. You try telling that story to your boy. See how he looks at you then." The fact that Evans would sacrifice his own life to maintain justice even though he has “no obligation” makes him a more interesting character than Paul Scallen. This indicates that Evans values honor and justice over his life, and this sense of right versus wrong drives him to finish his job regardless of the roadblocks he faces as Charlie Prince assembles Wade’s gang on the streets. In addition, Evans does not give in to temptations as Wade repeatedly offers him money for freedom. The fact that the son finally respects his father demonstrates the impact that the mission had on him. Just after William threatens to shoot the outlaw, Wade states, “there’s wild in his eyes” and that William reminds him of himself. If William were still filled with loathing and desire to follow Ben Wade’s criminal ways, he possibly would shoot Wade at the conclusion. However, Evans wants to lead William on a respectable path far from the amoral life of Ben Wade. Thus, Dan Evans is a more profound character and has a greater impact on the other characters compared to Paul Scallen due to his transformation throughout the film.
While Jim Kidd resembles the ruthless rebel in the western story, Ben Wade proves to be far more conniving and murderous with the greatest character arc in the film. From the beginning, Jim Kidd always underestimates Paul Scallen. For instance, while the tension builds and Charlie Prince is about to appear with the gang, Kid urges him to, “Run like hell while you’re still able” (34). In addition, Jim Kidd does not seem quite as menacing as Ben Wade. The way that he is portrayed in the short story, Jim Kidd seems just like a rebellious kid with no chance against Paul Scallen such as when he attempts to escape, “crawling frantically and coming to his feet when Scallen…grabbed him by the collar” (35). Ben Wade is charming, yet cold, and does not hesitate to murder, which is demonstrated in multiple instances. While they are camped at night in front of a fire, Evans tells his son that, “shooting animals is a lot different from shooting a man”, but Wade responds, “No, it isn’t. Not in my opinion.” This also indicates that Wade leads a group of animalistic men with no sense of morality, especially Charlie Prince. In the film, the two characters seem to have respect for each other from the start. Wade initially teased him relentlessly; however, he began to admire Dan’s strong character. Wade points out all of the wrongdoings of the rest of the lawmen; however, he respects Dan for being a genuinely good man. Wade and Evans are enemies, yet they have this camaraderie. For instance, when Evans begins to regard Wade as a friend, he wants Wade to know that he “ain’t stubborn…for keeping [his] family on that ranch.” Towards the conclusion, Evans’s remark of being a “hero” completely turned the plot around as Wade empathizes with him, and even tries to save his life several times during the chaotic finale. This ten-minute action scene at the end shows how Ben Wade wants Dan Evans to succeed even if he is being escorted to prison. Wade admires Evans’s lack of fear to the point of killing his entire gang in revenge after Charlie Prince shoots Evans. Thus, the director uses action to progress the relationship between the two main characters. While Wade’s character changes for the good throughout the film, he is still Ben Wade the notorious outlaw, as it is implied that he escapes from Yuma once again, whistling to his horse. This conclusion to a western film is far more memorable due to the fascinating relationships between the characters and their transformations.
In the short story, Paul Scallen and Jim Kidd are more typical and predictable, yet more realistic that the characters in the film adaptation. However, the reader does not learn much about either character in the short story. Even though the film adaptation is unrealistic at times, this is acceptable because of suspension of disbelief, and the execution of the screenwriters and director, therefore, not detracting from the quality of the film. 3:10 to Yuma is preferable because the two main characters are considerably more engrossing characters that relate to the audience and draw in their attention due to their contrasting and evolving personalities and attitude towards each other. Furthermore, the film does an excellent job of integrating themes of justice, values, and honor. Thus, the film adaptation is essentially superior to the original short story by Elmore Leonard due to the characterization, motives, and transformation of Dan Evans and Ben Wade.

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