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TOMBSTONE, one of two epic westerns about Wyatt Earp released within a few
months of each other (1993-94) lacks the lyrical, 'warts-and-all' quality
Kevin Costner's WYATT EARP, but is a more successful film, with tighter
pacing, more clearly drawn characters, and a reverence to the genre that
made it the most popular Western of the last twenty years.
From the opening scene, narrated by the legendary Robert Mitchum, a nod to the great Hollywood Westerns of the past is evident; a gang of outlaws calling themselves 'The Cowboys' break up a Mexican wedding in a small town, ruthlessly killing nearly all the men, including village priest Pedro Armendáriz Jr. (son of the legendary Western actor), in a scene reminiscent of ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, and THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. Led by two of Hollywood's flashiest character actors, swaggering Powers Boothe, and coldly psychotic Michael Biehn (playing Johnny Ringo), the presence of such pure evil sets the stage for the Earps' arrival in Tombstone.
A powerful cast is essential for a great Western, and you couldn't find a better group of actors as the Earp brothers; Kurt Russell, chiseled, squinty-eyed, and razor-thin, is an ideal Wyatt; Sam Elliott, one of Hollywood's best Western actors, plays Virgil with a growl but a twinkle in his eye; and Bill Paxton, soon to achieve stardom in APOLLO 13 and TWISTER, makes a terrific Morgan. Then there is Val Kilmer, as Doc Holliday...While Dennis Quaid, in WYATT EARP, gave the most realistic portrayal of the dying dentist-turned-gambler/gunfighter ever recorded on film (he was superb), Kilmer, relying on bloodshot eyes, an ambiguous sexuality, and a Brando-esque line delivery, literally steals TOMBSTONE, and has become the 'Doc' everyone remembers. He is so charismatic that you nearly forget that the Earps are the focus of the story! Watch for his early scene confronting a shotgun-wielding (and chubby!) Billy Bob Thornton (three years before SLING BLADE), out to kill Wyatt, and you'll see my point.
The events leading up to the famous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral are clearly and decisively presented, from Wyatt's first meeting with future wife Josie (Dana Delany), to the murder of Tombstone's Marshal (Harry Carey, Jr., son of another legendary Western star, and a staple of many John Ford films), which leads to Virgil taking the badge and making his brothers (in Wyatt's case, reluctantly) deputies, to the friction with Ike Clanton (GODS AND GENERALS' Stephen Lang) that explodes into the short but bloody shootout that became legendary.
Where TOMBSTONE and WYATT EARP both excel is in presenting the aftermath of the gunfight. Unlike MY DARLING CLEMENTINE or GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL, the true story doesn't tie up neatly with a happy ending at the Corral, but becomes darker and bloodier. The Earps are placed under house arrest, and after they are acquitted in court, friends of Clanton (in TOMBSTONE, Ringo and other Cowboys), cold-bloodedly murder Morgan and cripple Virgil. Wyatt explodes, and grimly sets about, with Holiday and a small band of gunmen, to execute every possible Clanton ally he can find ("You tell him I'm coming! And hell's coming with me!"). Becoming a wanted fugitive himself, he only stops his mission of vengeance long enough to take the ailing Holiday to a friend's cabin (Charlton Heston has a brief but memorable cameo as the rancher), but the gambler returns in time for the gunblazing climax of the film.
TOMBSTONE is the kind of Western that critics love to say aren't made anymore, a throwback to the golden days of Ford and Hawks, when Good and Evil were clearly defined. Director George P. Cosmatos grew up on those films, as well as those of Sergio Leone, and he said, of TOMBSTONE, that it was made to honor the Westerns he loved so much.
It is his love of the Western that makes TOMBSTONE a truly superior film!
A terrific Western- a thoughtful screenplay - uniformly fine
performances - Russell has never been better - quality widescreen
cinematography - and a knockout character performance by Val Kilmer as
Doc Holliday that should have won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. This
is a winner all the way.
Kilmer has only 31 scenes but manages to steal every one of them with a solid, beautifully thought and felt impersonation of a Southern gentleman, owing a bit to Tennessee Williams' famous drawl. His constantly drunken state - "I have two guns, one for each of you." -and his slow, sad death from tuberculosis - are masterworks of acting technique. Even if you don't like westerns, see it for his remarkable performance.
Proof that westerns can be fun, Tombstone delivers an action-adventure popcorn movie that doesn't have to be campy and one-dimensional to be enjoyable. Here, Wyatt Earp biography is told like a fable. Sure, the facts are often recalculated in this film. But this is not looking to give a straight-on accurate view of Wyatt Earp's life. This is trying to take a man's life as a basis and then add to it to make a cinematic joyride. As opposed to the overlong and plodding "Wyatt Earp," this film decides to have a good time with the story and not get too bogged down in the misery. Kurt Russell is powerful as awful, and no man can deny that Val Kilmer, in his finest performance to date, was fully due for an Oscar nomination, if not an Oscar win. And Michael Biehn also gives a first rate performance as the sadistic Johnny Ringo. This is a thrill ride for anyone who loves westerns, or a good film to try to get others to start watching westerns.
I decided to watch 'Tombstone' as there was nothing else on, and I am
so glad I did.
Conforming as I do to the stereotypical 'female who does not like Westerns' it was mainly Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer that drew me in.
Not knowing much about the 'OK Corral' I envisioned a long drawn out gunfight scene somewhere out in the desert. To discover it happened in the middle of town was only one of the educational experiences.
Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp gives a strong portrayal of a man who didn't want to get involved until circumstances gave him no option.
However, the movie does 'belong' to Val Kilmer. He gave a real sense of fatalism as 'Doc' Holliday, wanting to die in a blaze of gunfire rather than fading away from tuberculosis.
A great view of the Wild West.
I loved this movie so much I bought it right after seeing it the first time. The acting is incredible in this film. I'm not a huge Kurt Russell fan, but he played his role very well. Among others, I consider this one of Val Kilmer's best performances. Even if your not a Western fan (like me), you'll still at least enjoy this film. Excellent lighting, cinematography and sound design. Intense pacing and story telling. All the classic elements of good guys and bad guys. Great story development and plot buildup. You have to see it at least once.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The legendary O.K. Corral incident in Tombstone, Arizona has been told
previously in Edward L. Cahn's Law and Order (1932), Lewis Seiler's
Frontier Marshal (1934), Allan Dwan's Frontier Marshal (1939), William
C. McGann's Tombstone: The Town Too Tough to Die (1942), John Sturges'
Gunfight at O.K. Corral (1957), John Sturges' Hour of the Gun (1967),
and Frank Perry's Doc (1971). It was also filmed by Lawrence Kasdan in
Wyatt Earp (1994), a year after George P. Cosmatos' "Tombstone."
Cosmatos visualizes "Tombstone" in a new different way He introduces Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell) leaving Dodge City for the silver mining town of Tombstone to seek peaceful and profitable life There, he is joined by his brothers Virgil (Sam Elliot), and Morgan (Bill Paxton), and their wives Once arrived, they catch up with Wyatt's highly cultured friend, the flashy gambler and gunman, John Henry 'Doc' Holliday (Val Kilmer), accompanied by his voluptuous Hungarian consort Kate Horony (Joanna Pacula).
In Tombstone the Earps found that the wild town is controlled by an elite body of gunmen (the vile Clantons as well as their ally) known by the red silk sashes they wore around their waists They call themselves the "Cowboys."
All the elements of entertaining cinema are herethe upstanding hero figure and his unyielding nature (Earp); the eccentric, tragic sidekick (Doc Holliday); the lawless gang of villains led by the roughneck Curly Bill (Powers Boothe) and the testy Johnny Ringo (Michael Biehn); and the terrific action, which is, by its very nature, the classic elements of the Western... We also have good romance, funny lines and gun fighting skills
Cosmatos chooses to focus the attention on Wyatt's bloodiest days in Tombstone With Russell and Kilmer, he creates two characters that are both human and heroic The shootout at the O.K. Corral sparks with real excitement As the Earps with Doc Holliday step into the street and head down for their ultimate approach, they unexpectedly do look like their myth Four tall figures in long black coats advancing in a line, stern and unstoppable, a transient moment in time congealed eternally in our minds
First of all, I love the movie. Now some may say, "What a moron..." and
others will undoubtedly agree with me. But I think it's great. When I
first saw the film as it debuted in theaters eleven or so years back, I
came away thinking, Men doing a man's job. Sounds a little chauvinist,
I'll admit, but there you are. The movie is a tribute to men being men,
living their lives on their own terms. The fact that the story is about
the Earp saga is almost secondary to the film. To enjoy this movie, I
don't think that it's so important for it to have historical accuracy
to the letter or even have rain falling consistently through the shots.
I would only advise viewers to let this Remington-painting-come-to-life
wash over them and just go along for the ride. As long as we remember
that this is Hollywood, all is well.
Then there's reality. As real aficionados of Tombstone history will see, the movie sacrifices or distorts some of the facts and compresses time. In the end it's a shame, really, because the film never realizes its full potential. I'm convinced that if this movie was true to history, it could only have been better. Previous reviews talk about and compare with Costner's Wyatt Earp. I think elements of both films combined would have made a great movie. For instance, I would have lifted much of WE's script from when Wyatt arrives in town (the story, not the dialog) and used it in Tombstone. And then get the rest of the facts straight. The true story is compelling on its own, and would still be entertaining.
The special edition DVD includes deleted scenes, that for the life of me, I can't figure out why they were deleted in the first place. But the scene when Wyatt and Josie rest after their spirited ride still has the payoff of the scene cut out - Josie and Wyatt getting it on. I get tired of directors thinking that the audience is sophisticated so we'll just let them figure it out on their own. Come on George, some of us didn't know that Wyatt was cheating on Mattie.
Finally, I've got to say that the movie was cast well. And the costumes were true to life - men liked to be colorful and unique in that time and place. The guns were accurate, as were the holsters (low slung and quick draw is a Hollywood invention). As for the scenery, I lived in Arizona for a while, and I do miss the big sky.
If you want to be entertained, this is the movie for you. If you want a history lesson, better hit the library...
Now Tombstone is a film that I would call the last great western of its
genre so far. It has every sub plot you could want in you're average film
and especially in a western. They have a great cast on board also to
establish this gang of ragger muffins. Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp is just
as good as Costner and Lancaster were. Val Kilmer is probably the main
reason why every fan of it's genre talk about it so much as he is not just a
fine actor in this but you believe that Doc Holiday and him were somehow
related as he takes on the exact same sense of humour which I have read in
books and his likeness is there also from what I have seen in pictures.
Val Kilmer has been in a lot of films but only half of them were good and this goes into one of his best along with Oliver Stone's The Doors and Willow without doubt has to get a mention. There is a superb cast here which makes up of Bill Paxton, Sam Elliot, Michael Biehn, Powers Boothe, Stephen Lang, Billy Zane and of course Charlton Heston. I could go on for even longer mentioning some of the great actors that star in this but the sheer action of vengeance of it make it one of the best action westerns. There are your two type of westerns like High Noon and The Searchers which are very calm but intense films. Then you have The Wild Bunch and Tombstone which are just blood thirsty with plenty of action to cater for all tastes of films.
I am not to familiar with the director but he is surely missed as far as making a western like this is concerned.
"Tombstone" is one of the best westerns ever made. It was overshadowed in the early-1990s due to the success of "Dances With Wolves" and "Unforgiven". While "Tombstone" is not on par with either of those films, it is an exciting shoot-em-up western that works because it never tries to be more than it is. The Earps (Kurt Russell, Sam Elliott, and Bill Paxton) are looking for their fortune out west. However, trouble ensues as ruthless cowboys are reigning terror all over the region. Powers Boothe and Michael Biehn are the leaders of the bad dudes and a massive showdown is the only answer for all concerned. Also along for the ride is Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer, in arguably his greatest role). "Tombstone" also has one of the greatest casts of recent memory. Some of the faces that will be seen include Charlton Heston, Dana Delaney, Stephen Lang, Billy Zane, Jason Priestley, and Billy Bob Thornton. 4 stars out of 5.
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
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
Tom Sizemore and Michael Madsen. Although it was a fairly decent effort,
offering a consuming account of the gunslinger's whole life from his
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
turn from Costner in the lead. Tombstone on the other hand, begins when
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
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