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Wyatt Earp

movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Wyatt Earp

Starring: Kevin Costner, Dennis Quaid
Director: Lawrence Kasdan
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 191 Minutes
Release Date: September 1994
Genres: Action, Western

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Dragan Antulov review follows movie review
2.  Steve Rhodes read the review movie reviewmovie review

Review by Dragan Antulov
1 star out of 4

In the early 1990s western fans saw one of the many revivals of their favourite genre. However, this time it happened during the zenith of "political correctness" in Hollywood, so the entire idea of "western renaissance" was associated with the need to paint Old West in colours more suitable for modern political sensibilities. Former heroes who had brought the civilisation and American of life to the Frontier were suddenly transformed into wife beaters, homicidal psychopaths and fascist thugs responsible for the genocide of Native Americans and the rape of virgin natural environment. In the climate when the old myths got replaced with new ones, even the real life legends of the Old West had to go through revisionist makeover. That included Wyatt Earp, lawman whose life had inspired numerous Hollywood films through the decades, mostly centred on his role in the gunfight at O.K. Corral. In 1993/1994 Hollywood brought two new versions of that story. While the first, George P. Cosmatos' TOMBSTONE, remained loyal to the past conventions of the genre, WYATT EARP, written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan, was more ambitious effort.

In this film Kasdan tries to fill the blank left by almost every other filmmaker who had dealt with Earp - his life prior to the fateful events in Tombstone. So, in this film we follow how Wyatt Earp (played by Kevin Costner) grew up to become the law enforcement legend of the Old West. In the first scenes we are introduced to his family, led by patriarchal figure of Nicholas Earp (played by Gene Hackman), lawyer who wants Wyatt to follow his footsteps and make career as respected citizen. At first, Wyatt follows his footsteps, but the tragic death of first wife Urilla (played by Anabeth Gish) would lead him to alcoholism, gambling, and other form of anti-social behaviour. After he barely avoided hanging for the horse theft in Arkansas Wyatt decides to sober up and seeks new life in the West. There he would switch many careers until his efficiency of the law enforcer in the rowdy Middle West cattle towns earns him reputation of the legend. That reputation would become very useful when he retires and goes to Tombstone, Arizona in order to seek fortune together with their brothers. In the ensuing conflict with rival clans of Clantons his friendship with terminally ill gambler and gunslinger Doc Holliday (played by Dennis Quaid) would be equally useful.

Kasdan probably thought that the epic scope is the way to make his treatment of Wyatt Earp different from other films. He provides that epic scope by widespread use of James Newton Howard's music and panoramic shots, but the most "epic" thing about WYATT EARP is its three-hour length. In other circumstances, those 189 minutes would bring texture to the story and character, but this time the long run only reveals the weakness in the script. Kasdan, one of Hollywood's most talented screenwriters, seems overwhelmed with the ambitious task to give more modern, historically accurate and less flattering picture of Wyatt Earp while remaining loyal to the myth in the same time. So, in the first hour or so, the film meanders into banal and not very significant episodes concerning Wyatt Earp's early life - relations with his family and opposite sex or early career choices, When we get to the point that should be the most interesting- gunfight at the O.K. Corral - Kasdan rushes the pace of the film to the predictable conclusion, without bothering to explain the background of the said event and thus leaving audience unsatisfied.

The length of the film could be explained by the influence of Kevin Costner, Kasdan's long time associate. Costner, who became star by playing another American law enforcement legend in THE UNTOUCHABLES, probably tried to stay on the screen as long as possible, so perhaps this is the reason why WYATT EARP has many scenes that should have been cut. Costner, however, delivers the goods and his portrayal of Earp is commendable, but unfortunately, it can't compensate contradictions in the story and characterisation. Furthermore, although WYATT EARP has the truly stellar cast, none of Costner's colleagues, with the possible exception of Hackman in rather routine role of his father, has room for more than couple of lines. The most tragic thing happened with Dennis Quaid, who allowed himself to lose 20 kilograms of his weight only to accurately portray terminally ill Doc Holliday. That should have been truly marvellous role, but Kasdan didn't use its potential, so Quaid's performance looks inferior to Kilmer's portrayal of the same character in TOMBSTONE. Actually, any kind of comparison between two films is very unflattering to Kasdan's effort - while TOMBSTONE looks like standard Hollywood entertainment that delivers the goods, WYATT EARP is pseudo-"artsy" epic that sinks under the weight of its authors' ambitions.

Copyright 2000 Dragan Antulov

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