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Wild Bill Hickok, famed lawman and gunman of the Old West, is haunted by his past and his reputation. He is loved by, but cannot love, Calamity Jane. Dogging his trail is young Jack McCall, who blames Bill for abandoning the boy's mother and destroying her life. McCall has sworn to kill Bill, and Bill's ghosts, his failing eyesight, and his fondness for opium may make McCall's task easier. Written by
Jim Beaver <firstname.lastname@example.org>
A great piece of infotainment about a true legend of the Wild West.
The Wild West grew out of myth and partially true folklore. Hollywood grew for the same reasons. Put the two together to construct a story about the last days of Wild Bill and what do you get? Well you get something that's exciting, brutal, nasty and short and very little of it truthful.
Walter Hill is one of Tinsel Town's better producer/directors, no question; and his experience at producing great thrillers (like the Alien series) serves him (and the viewer) well. Because this is a thrilling tale: of a man who was in fact a legend in his own time (like Buffalo Bill, Billy the Kid, Butch Cassidy and many others), and of a man who obviously didn't relate too well with people in general. Maybe Wild Bill thought that he'd been dealt a raw deal from day one? Who knows...?
And that's the upside of this narrative as well as its Achilles Heel because if you read the history of Wild Bill, you'll find that most of this film is pure fiction. Trouble is, most of what you read about Wild Bill is pure fiction, also. And the sources I researched admit it: nobody knows the real truth about how Wild Bill died EXCEPT he did die while playing poker in a saloon. Beyond that, all else, it appears, is up for grabs which means that any writer/producer can develop a story that provides a reasonable probability of what might have happened.
So, don't pay any heed to reality in this film, beyond the very detailed settings, props, costumes, accents, language the general mise-en-scene. The story, some of which is told in flashback, is generally fast-paced, with the possible exception of when Bill visits the Chinese opium dens in Deadwood for some light relief, shall I say? But, those episodes also give the director/cinematography the opportunity to play around with camera angles, shimmering scenes, and such like.
What I particularly liked about this movie were the scenes of mid-nineteenth century small towns across USA. Those images compare very well with genuine photos I've seen of that time, particularly those of Deadwood. So, hats off to the production team for those flawless settings, arguably the best I've seen on film to date. In fact, this film is worth seeing for that alone.
In contrast, there's a major error that is just unforgivable, considering the overall standard of the production: in the final battle scene between Wild Bill and five tough bounty hunters, Bill shoots them all dead with his two revolvers, both of which looked like 1858 or 1861 Remingtons. Those guns are six-shooters. In the gun battle, Wild Bill shoots at least sixteen shots, and maybe eighteen, all without reloading! Don't worry I checked it by counting those shots, again and again, while going through the battle slowly. What a shame that goof wasn't caught before the film was released...
However, the cast is great, particularly Jeff Bridges and John Hurt (as the fictional character, Charley Prince, invented for narrative purposes), both of whom are ably supported by Ellen Barkin as Calamity Jane and David Arquette as Jack McCall. Jeff Bridges must be highlighted for special mention: his costumes and general manner look stunningly true to life when compared with real photos of that long dead gunfighter.
As a piece of history, forget it. As rip-snorting entertainment, go see it, especially if you love the Western genre. Highly recommended.
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