Wild Bill (1995) Poster


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A Psychedelic Look At 'Wild Bill'
ccthemovieman-121 February 2006
If there was ever a psychedelic western movie, this has to be it. It's so bizarre, at least compared to most westerns, that it was tough for me to write this review. I stopped and re-started several times. Where to start?

I just found it great fun, an entertaining film that's always a kick to view, and what more you can ask? Being someone who is very much into visuals, great cinematography and unique approaches to camera-work, this film provided all of that and more, such as an interesting story with whacked-out characters.

I love narration and John Hurt's description of the goings-on here was just great to hear. He played "Charlie," an Englishman with a gentleman's vocabulary that was in stark contrast to the hardened outlaws, led by 'Wild Bill' Hickok himself, played by Jeff Bridges. Ellen Barkin plays "Calamity Jane," and few women of the 1980s and '90s played foul-mouthed, hard-but-sexy women as convincingly as Barkin.

In addition to Hurt, Bridges and Barkin, other fun characters included "California Joe," Hickok's gravel-voiced friend who doesn't say much but when he does, you hear some some of the longest sentences ever uttered. Daid Arquette plays a very strange villain, the man who became famous for shooting Wild Bill. He acts strange and talks as if he has a mouthful of marbles. James Remar, another mean-looking tough guy, is a hired killer. Christina Applegate, Bruce Dern, Margoe Gortner, Keith Carradine and assorted other characters all add to this strange tale, strange in its telling and even stranger in its visual style.

Some of the film is in flashback, which is seen in startling black-and-white and mainly features Diane Lane, who is flat-out gorgeous and maybe the most intriguing person in the film. One of the flashbacks has the film deliberately overexposed with wild dream-like images.

No western "purist" admits to liking this but I love the genre and I put this near the top of my list of favorite westerns. So, sue me!
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Better than average western, with some very nice touches.
tigerrick9 April 2007
I wasn't expecting much from this one, but Walter Hill's direction credit during the opening title sequence sucked me in - and I was glad it did.

A very capable cast and an interesting cinematic style gave this film a unique flavor, although some of the characters bordered on unbelievable at times.

Loved the interaction between Wild Bill and Calamity Jane on the saloon table, although the conversation seemed too modern for the late 1800s. But overall, the film was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon, especially when compared with some of the lesser films available at the time.
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As Close To History As One Gets For 'Wild Bill' Hickok
jrgreenmd-130 August 2003
Making a movie about a legend is a tricky situation; it is worse when the pages of history are filled with myth. There is no doubt that 'Wild Bill' Hickok was a lawman, gunman and Western legend. There is the problem. He was so famous that numerous sources sought to make their fortunes on stories embellished for sales. The most notable was the "dime novel." The makers of this movie did as good a job as anyone has it trying to tell the true story of this legend.

There are scenes not found in Bill's history, but they are historical for the time. The classic Western model is not in play. Indians, Chinese, black cowboys, ... etc are muti-dimensional characters. The added scenes flow the story and add depth. Even with numerous flash backs the story flows well.

Jeff Bridges as "James Butler 'Wild Bill' Hickok" and Ellen Barkin " as "Calamity Jane" do great jobs with the main characters. Bridges while in costume actually resembles the pictures of the real "Wild Bill." The romantic relationship between these Western notables and its development is well done. The interplay sets this movie apart from most Westerns, and adds appeal to those who might not be Western fans.

Two of the best pieces of acting are by actors with smaller parts in the film. Watch for Keith Carradine as "Buffalo Bill Cody" and John Hurt as "Charley Prince," Bill's friend and the character narrating the film.

James Gammon (I) does a good character role as "California Joe."

If you like Western history, this is a great film. If you want a classic Western flick and non-stop action, you may find it slow. For anything more accurate you'll need to go the library; to date, this is the best film on Hickok.
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Walter Hill got it right with "Deadwood"
gvit-25 February 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This could have been great, but there are two big problems, Ellen Barkin cast as Calamity Jane, and worst of all, the idea that Jack Macall couldn't bring himself to pull the trigger when he TWICE had the opportunity. Hill's "Long Riders" is miles ahead of this film, although this is not all bad, Bridge's performance is excellent as are many other supporting roles. I found the John Hurt character a typical John Hurt 19th century character which he did best in Cimino's "Heaven's Gate". Here he takes the place of real life Charlie Utter for reasons I don't understand. Barkin is so miscast that it almost hurts, her imitation of an southern accent is so close to a crime against humanity that she should at least pay a fine, and no woman looking like Ms. Barkin living in a town like Deadwood would be as clean and pretty as she always seems to be. Her bubbly, sweetness is also more than misplaced. You can bet your gold nugget that the studio needed a love interest who would show her birthday suit, I would well hope that Hill was not responsible for her character or role. Hickock's killer is a much more believable character in the excellent HBO "Deadwood, here he's a whiny, indecisive jerk which makes it hard to believe that he was raised by the woman who captured Hickock's heart long before. Lastly, the set design in this film was too "westerny", the bars are polished, the woodwork is excellent, the furnishings are expensive, etc. Deadwood was a gold mining camp that sprung up over night, this looks like a standard movie town for westerns despite the muddy streets. The excellent book by Dexter is done a disservice by this film and it is quite interesting to see what Hill did with the same story 9 years later in the pilot episode of "Deadwood". Watching both is a learning experience.
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A great piece of infotainment about a true legend of the Wild West.
Roger Burke5 May 2007
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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That's the spirit!
poe42613 September 2002
"The hardest steel is forged in the hottest fires..." The Wild West in the years following The Civil War must've been very close to the West as Walter Hill envisions it here; if not in fact, then most certainly in tone. Life was cheap: pick up any one of the magazines or books devoted to same and take a gander at the bodies on display in storefronts and on boardwalks (or laid out in the sun, or dangling from the limbs of trees). The man who walked away from a gunfight was the man who got there first with the most. He what hesitated, was lost. Jeff Bridges as WILD BILL is a man with a hair-trigger; he HAD to be. (Otherwise, he would've been BELLY-UP BILL, and a lot less interesting.) He literally fights- with fists or with guns- at the drop of a hat. Not the kind of man you take lightly. He drowns his sorrows in booze and pipes and the black and white flashbacks (with the camera canted just enough to suggest an off-kilter dream state) are great. See this one because you like hard-hitting, no-nonsense westerns or because you prefer superior craftsmanship- but SEE it; to miss it would be to pass up one of the finest westerns to ever come thunderin' down the trail.
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Muddy, angry, two-fisted tale of revenge in the Old West...
moonspinner5531 May 2008
Historians may scoff, but Walter Hill's "Wild Bill" is an absorbing and intriguing western with elegiac overtures yet much of the emphasis placed on the battles. Jeff Bridges does a fine job as scruffy, mangy, weathered James Butler Hickok in the 1870s Midwest, getting into brutal fights while doing nothing more than standing at a bar (John Hurt's narration tells us, "Being 'Wild' Bill was in itself a profession."). Ellen Barkin plays Calamity Jane like a lovestruck toughie who clucks behind Hickok, waiting for a commitment; David Arquette is Jack McCall, a young man defending the honor of his mother, whom Hickok loved and left. Occasionally, director Hill hits a stumbling block (there's an inconsequential bit with Keith Carradine as Buffalo Bill Cody which disconnects the mood, and also a black-and-white flashback filmed in high-contrast where Hickok attempts to talk sensibly with a no-nonsense Indian tribe). Still, the hand and gun bouts are fully charged with adrenaline, and there's a genuine feel for these sad, meandering people that recalls strong sections from other westerns, particularly "McCabe and Mrs. Miller". A bumpy film, but not a bad one at all. **1/2 from ****
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An Unrecognized Masterpiece
Torchy7 August 2001
I've been checking out the comments on this film and they seem to be in line with most of the other reactions I've heard. It's important to say up front that this is not a film for Western fans. It's not a film for action fans. It's not for history buffs who care only about the facts. It's not a film for people who want to see a good story told simply.

Wild Bill is one of the richest and most disturbing films ever made about the American West. It shows us a complicated man without trying to explain or rationalize the contradictions in his character. He's capable of love, but he also commits acts of brutal violence. He cares for his friends but he holds them all at arm's length. And he feels compelled to play the part of the living legend to the end, come what may.

I suspect that Walter Hill chose this subject because he identified strongly with Wild Bill himself. But whether or not this is true, the contradictions in Hickok's character are a part of this country's character. Hill was lucky to have Jeff Bridges in the lead. It's one of his finest performances. Though Wild Bill doesn't voice doubts about his life out loud, Bridges' face shows us that he doesn't understand himself the reasons for many of his actions.

The story is not told in chronological order, but the organization of the sequences is not haphazard. In fact it's beautifully thought out. This is not a film for everybody, but I think it deserves a lot more attention than it's gotten so far. I feel like fans of Walter Hill's work will see the same thing I do: a beautiful and haunting meditation on why this country is the way it is.
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Someone should put a bullet in this one
Samiam325 August 2010
Perhaps I love Deadwood too much; the critically praised, HBO series for which director Walter Hill appropriately won an Emmy for the pilot. I clearly set my expectations a little too high of this one, which predates the Deadwood series by eight years or so. Coming from Walter Hill, the man behind the Warriors and The Long Riders, there is no way that Wild Bill should have been this sloppy.

His portrayal of the life and death of James Butler Hickok results in a motion picture that self-destructs in spectacular fashion. It is vastly underwritten, poorly acted, edited as if it were a labyrinth of jungle vines to be cut down by a machete, and on top of that the movie is also severely anti-climactic.

All that Hill gets right is that parts of the movie are well shot, and he is able to capture the look of the times on screen, but on the pages, it is a different matter. The opening twenty minutes (give or take) are especially excruciating. What we see is almost a joke, totally amateurish and more oriented towards obnoxious gunplay than character illumination. I felt like I was watching kiddies play cowboys and Indians on the street with little wooden pistols.

Jeff Bridges portrayal of Hickok is devoid of talent and humanity. It is so obviously a performance, with hammy delivery, poor timing, and failure to capture Bill's misery and self loathing and his love for Calamity Jane.

When all is said and done, Wild Bill is a dud. It is clumsy and careless, and is easily one of the worst westerns I have ever seen.
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What makes a hero?
galestreger16 March 2002
Is it the will to fight? Is it the fear of failure? Quoting one of the most important lines in this movie: "Wild Bill had chosen a way of life, that demanded he´d walk down the muddy mainstreet, instead of using the sidewalks along the houses.", one begins to realize that legend has its price. Now, it may not be a historical correct version of the life and death of the great Wild Bill, but it´s a lesson on what happens when the your name gets to carry you, instead of the other way around. -and Jeff Bridges is simply superb as the uncompromising and stubborn gunslinger. Great Movie!!!
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