‘3:10 to Yuma’ is a Western film directed by James Mangold that explores morality and honor through the curious relationship between two men. In the small town of Bisbee, Arizona, a down-on-his-luck Rancher, Dan Evans, struggles to sustain his family on a land steadily slipping through his fingers due to immense debt. Therefore, when the infamous outlaw, Ben Wade, gets caught by the authorities, Dan volunteers to join the posse tasked with escorting Ben to Contention, where a 3:10 train will carry him off to Yuma Prison.
Dan and the other man face many challenges on the journey, from Native Apache groups to Ben’s lethal gang led by Charlie Prince. Applauded for compelling performances by Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, this modern approach to a classic Western story crafts a gripping narrative about virtue and merit in shades of gray. With a historical setting essential to its genre and well-fleshed-out characters, ‘3:10 to Yuma’ presents a tale that feels authentic to the human condition. But is there any connection between the film and real life? Let’s find out!
Is 3:10 to Yuma a True Story?
No, ‘3:10 to Yuma’ is not based on a true story. The film is a remake of the identically titled 1957 film directed by Delmer Daves. The 1957 Western, in turn, was based on a 1953 Elmore Leonard short story ‘Three-Ten to Yuma.’ With these two source materials to draw inspiration from, Mangold’s film presents its own unique take on the storyline and characters. For this film, Mangold and his writing team consisting of Halsted Welles, Michael Brandt, and Derek Haas, didn’t want to simply re-make the 1957 film in the modern landscape.
Instead, the creative team wanted to add new intentional value to the tale by imbuing the narrative with additional themes and pertinent plotlines. Writer Haas discussed the team’s creative process in a conversation with Big Think and gave insight into the extra elements in their film, compared to the 1957 rendition. Essentially the team wanted to bring some of the crucial aspects they felt were missing from the original movie. Thus, was born a middle act about Dan and Ben’s journey on the road and the more significant role that William Evans (Logan Lerman) fulfills within the story.
The inclusion of the same molded the film into a “morality tale for the son’s soul” that, according to Haas, felt more realistic and socially relevant at the time of the film’s release. Likewise, Director Mangold shared similar sentiments about the changes he decided to make in his film, including the ending. “We changed more than the end. I mean, we changed the beginning. I mean, I could riffle them off,” he said in an interview with ComingSoon. “But I mean, we felt we were making a commentary on what we felt was kind of a more evocative and realistic appraisal of what might actually have happened.”
Alternatively, the film does an incredible job with the score to immerse viewers in its Western setting and grounds the narrative in its historical time. Similarly, Mangold stayed true to all the quirks and traits of a classic Western by surrounding himself with people knowledgeable about them to help him overcome genre-specific challenges and create a movie that felt genuine and authentic. However, when it came to the Western’s historical accuracy, Mangold preferred to prioritize the film’s lessons and messaging over the same.
For Mangold, the Western genre, as a whole, presented a setting more akin to science fiction and other mythological stories. Discussing the same, the filmmaker said, “Attention to detail doesn’t merely refer to historical accuracy but more broadly to the appropriate thing at the appropriate moment, whether that’s a moment of human emotion or a salt shaker.” Therefore, ‘3:10 to Yuma’ finds much of its authenticity from the humane exploration of Dan and Ben’s characters, and they’re dynamic as men that come from vastly different worlds.
Through their relationship, the film is able to depict two sides of a spectrum, free of any modern preconceived notions about their worldview or politics. Instead, it simply delivers a narrative steeped in moral quandary. As such, ‘3:10 to Yuma’ is an authentic account of human morality and connections without having a real-life historical basis. As Mangold’s interpretation of a plot previously told by Daves and Leonard, this film provides a riveting story ripe with effortless and relatable philosophical plights.
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