3:10 to Yuma (2007)

Movie: Directed by James Mangold.

Inciting Event: Outlaw Ben Wade robs the railroad paywagon in a violent shootout. Struggling rancher Dan Evans stumbles upon the hold-up, and Ben commandeers his horses so he can’t ride into Bisbee to warn the marshal.

This movie provides a nice example of how and why the Hook is different from the Inciting Event. The movie opens with a Hook that knocks over the plot’s first domino for protagonist Dan Evans: hoodlums working for the man to whom he is indebted burn his barn in the night as a warning that he must pay his debts in two days. This neatly introduces the Normal World scenario for Dan and introduces the Thing He Wants (to pay off his debts and keep his family safe and fed).

It is not, however, the Inciting Event. The main conflict centers around Ben Wade. Not until Wade enters Dan’s life—however briefly—and commits the robbery that will lead to his arrest, is the main plot itself “incited.” And not until the First Plot Point does Dan engage with his specific main story goal.

First Plot Point: Dan learns Ben is holed up in the Bisbee saloon. He recklessly marches inside both to demand remuneration for the cattle Ben killed and to distract him until he can be arrested. Ben’s arrest is the Key Event. When the railway man Mr. Butterfield then offers $200 to any man who will help escort Ben to the railway station in Contention—to catch the 3:10 train for Yuma Prison—Dan engages fully with the main conflict by agreeing. He now leaves his Normal World and enters the adventure world of obstacles and dangers en route to Contention.

First Pinch Point: After faking out Ben’s gang—including Ben’s devoted sidekick Charlie Prince—by hiding out at Dan’s ranch, the posse leaves, thus turning the plot. Shortly after, we get two pinches: first, when Ben kills one of his guards with a fork he stole from Dan’s house, and, then again, when the true antagonistic force of Charlie Prince and the rest of Ben’s gang learn of Ben’s whereabouts and start pursuing them.

Midpoint: Dan’s angry fourteen-year-old son William follows them and arrives just in time to stymie Ben’s escape attempt. Ben then saves them from an Indian raid before escaping for real. There isn’t a tremendously obvious change in pace here (from reaction to action), but we get a nice turning point that changes things up when Ben escapes, and we also see the slow evolution of Ben and Dan’s relationship, into a wary sort of respect.

Second Pinch Point: Dan and the others rescue Ben from vengeful railroad men, who are torturing him for killing one of their brothers. They blow up a tunnel and escape, but one of their number is killed, emphasizing the stakes. We also get a scene of Charlie and his gang tracking Ben to the other side of the tunnels: they are closing in.

Third Plot Point: In Contention, Dan and the others are waiting for the train, when Charlie and the gang arrive. Charlie offers a $200 reward for the death of any of Ben’s captors. The town goes crazy and kills the marshal and his men. Even Mr. Butterfield backs down. It’s clear that escorting Ben to the train has now become a suicide mission.

Dan sends his son away, but decides to see the mission through, now because it is the right thing to do.

Climax: Dan and Ben race to the train, with the town raining bullets on them. Ben gets the drop on Dan and nearly kills him but suddenly changes his mind when Dan tells him the truth about his relationship with his son. Ben then decides to let Dan take him to the train.

Climactic Moment: They reach the train, only to have Charlie kill Dan from behind. Angrily, Ben murders his entire gang, then mounts the train anyway, completing Dan’s mission for him.

Resolution: There isn’t much of a Resolution here, just Ben whistling for his horse as the train pulls away—indicating that he will escape.

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