18 January 2004 | RareSlashersReviewed
It may not have a deep heart, but its a hell of a lot of fun...
The 1990s looked set to be a promising decade for the Western genre after the Oscar darlings Unforgiven and Dances with Wolves cleared up the Academy respectively in 90 and 92. Hot on the heels of those modern-day classics came two individual accounts of Wyatt Earp's legendary life as a lawman. Wyatt Earp boasted an interesting cast in Gene Hackaman, Kevin Costner and Dennis Quaid with strong assistance from an excellent ensemble that included Tom Sizemore and Michael Madsen. Although it was a fairly decent effort, offering a consuming account of the gunslinger's whole life from his humble upbringing and the death of his first wife to his renowned battles with Outlaws like the infamous shoot-out at the Ok Corral. It couldn't help but feel plagued by a yawn inducing 183 minute running time and an uncharismatic turn from Costner in the lead. Tombstone on the other hand, begins when Earp and his brothers move to the town named in the title and is - for the most part, a far more direct and satisfying approach.
It opens with Earp ending his stint as a Kansas law officer and heading for Tombstone with his brothers Virgil and Morgan and their families in toe. Upon arrival they meet up with their good friend and Ally Doc Holliday and before long they've acquired a share in a thriving little saloon and card game. A group of ruthless bandits ironically titled 'The Cowboys', also inhabit the town and they take an immediate disliking to the retired lawman's reputation and moral attitudes. So far, Wyatt had done well to keep himself clear of any kind of feuding or trouble, but one fateful night a barbarous act forces him to arrest Curly Bill Brocious the leader of the desperadoes. This eventually results with the historic showdown at the OK Corral and a quest to rid the land from the curse of these malevolent outlaws.
On his audio commentary for the Tom Cruise drama Vanilla Sky, Cameron Crowe describes Kurt Russell as 'Hollywood's best kept secret'. Showing flashes of Clint Eastwood, but without ever looking like he's trying to imitate him, he provides a competent lead and proves that there's certainly a lot of truth to that statement. From his humorous will they won't they yearnings for Jose, to his anguished rage as he screams, `.Hell's coming with me' into the stormy night sky, Russell's on top form. His excellence can't help but play second fiddle to a scene stealing Val Kilmer, who has some of the best dialogue since Mr Blonde shared breakfast with a group of crimms in black suits. Hitting a career high, it's seems surprising that the Academy didn't acknowledge such a worthy portrayal. The camaraderie between he and Earp is one of Cinema's most pleasurable buddy pairings and no one can deny the pathos he creates in his tragic exit. His rivalry with an underused but adequate Michael Biehn as Johnny Ringo is compelling and their dual makes for an irresistible climax. Dana Delaney also shines as the Marshall's 'other' love interest, but frankly with a cast studded with cameos from so many familiar faces - even Charlton Heston - you could give a gibbon the megaphone and the results would probably still feel fairly acceptable!
The set locations are the standard cowboy fare, but director Cosmatos manages to make good use of them. The stormy night scenes when Morgan is attacked are crafted to create an electric atmosphere that is superbly lighted and the same can be said for the suspense made in the neatly staged shoot-outs. Clearly accomplished as an action director, Cosmatos certainly was the right Man for this rootin' tootin' ride through the Wild West. He shows a flare for building tension that runs smoothly throughout the beautifully shot set pieces.
The only complaint that can be made about Tombstone is the lack of any real depth found within the story. Where as genre classics like Unforgiven offer an emotionally charged drama that snuggles so neatly with the always-ungratuitous gunplay, Kevin Jarre's story falls into the 'popcorn western' category. Along with its contemporaries Young guns or The Quick and the Dead, the movie aims more for blockbuster appeal than a deep and endearing dramatic approach. Still, fans of a six-shooter will find plenty to be impressed by - in this admirable character-led mix of gunplay, companionship, romance and even just the right amount of pathos. Fans still ask which is the better of the two accounts of Wyatt Earp's life that were strangely released around the same time. Well I guess the answer really depends on your personnel taste in movies. If you like the more dramatic western and have no problem with an epic runtime, then Costner and co's biopic maybe the one for you. However if you're looking for a 'popcorn' take on the lawman's life then you need look no further. Tombstone's your movie! It may not have a deep heart, but it's a hell of a lot of fun! 8/10