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movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Tombstone

Starring: Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer
Director: George P. Cosmatos
Rated: R
RunTime: 135 Minutes
Release Date: December 1993
Genres: Action, Drama, Western

*Also starring: Michael Biehn, Powers Boothe, Robert Burke, Dana Delany, Sam Elliott, Stephen Lang, Bill Paxton, Jason Priestley, Billy Zane, Charlton Heston

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

Review by Dragan Antulov
2 stars out of 4

In the early 1990s Hollywood saw renaissance of western, with many of films exploring the dark side of the Old West and thus serving "politically correct" agenda by painting revisionist picture of American history. In such circumstances even the gunfight at O.K. Corral had their turn, despite the fact that this event had inspired plenty of filmmakers in previous decades. In 1993/1994, less than a year, Hollywood major studios produced not one but two films that dealt with Wyatt Earp. First of them was TOMBSTONE, directed by George Pal Cosmatos.

The film begins in Tombstone, Arizona in early 1880s. Wyatt Earp (played by Kurt Russell) is legendary sheriff of Dodge City who retired from law enforcement in order to lead more peaceful and profitable life. Wyatt and his two brothers - Virgil (played by Sam Elliott) and Morgan (played by Bill Paxton) - arrive in Tombstone where they soon come into conflict with "Cowboys", gang of local thugs and cattle thieves led by Curly Bill Brosis (played by Powers Boothe), Johnny Ringo (played by Michael Biehn) and Ike Clanton (played by Stephen Lang). As the tensions between Earp and "Cowboys" rise, Wyatt meets his old friend, gambler and gunslinger Doc Holliday (played by Val Kilmer). Holliday's skills would become quite handy when the conflict erupts into gunfight at O.K. Corral.

Kevin Jarre, original scriptwriter and director of TOMBSTONE, got himself fired before the end of the shooting, and producers gave the project into the hands of George Pal Cosmatos. This didn't help the reputation of the movie, because Cosmatos' name is usually associated with films that feature large amounts of action scenes and hardly anything else. Therefore, with Cosmatos in charge, all attempts to accurately recreate historical events in Tombstone 1881 were thrown by the window. Cosmatos was interested for spectacular action scenes and hardly anything else and the pace of film reflects his desire to quickly wrap up the boring stuff like character development or background of the conflict. Additional problem for the film is large number of characters and actors, many of them in honorary cameos (including Robert Mitchum as narrator) - Cosmatos simply doesn't have the time to deal with them. Many of them appear for a scene or two, especially Earp's women (with the exception of Josephine Marcus, played by Dana Delany).

However, even disorganised mess of a movie called TOMBSTONE can redeem itself with few bright moments. First of all, since Cosmatos can't work on character development he simply portrays Clantons and their gang as dangerous psychopathic killers from the beginning, thus allowing Biehn, Lang and Boothe to give amusingly cartoonish portrayals of villains. Then, since the filmmakers abandoned any attempt to explain Earp/Clanton conflict by presenting social, economic and political conditions of early 1880s Arizona, their black/white characterisation resulted in creative approach to history, which might be seen as fun. For example, narration explicitly names "Cowboys" as the first form of organised crime in USA and, afterwards, costumes (which is together with scenery and props painstakingly recreated from actual history) and facial hygiene indicate their alignment, in sharp contrast with "civilised", squeaky- clean Earps. Later in the film, growing intensity of the conflict is illustrated with some laughably trite phrases, but nothing can match campiness of the scene in which Doc Holliday and Johnny Ringo exchange insults in Latin.

Apart from campiness, TOMBSTONE is rescued with truly superb acting. While Kurt Russell plays very believable Wyatt and Sam Elliott still has presence of real westerner in the role of his older brother, poor Bill Paxton simply can't overcome his image of fall guy in action films. But the true marvel of this film is Val Kilmer as Doc Holiday, who gives not only powerful but also very original portrayal of the terminally ill gunslinger - his Holliday is not only refined intellectual, but also a romantic. Kilmer's role in this film is one of the best in his career. Other actors, many of them quite fine, only briefly appear, with most of their roles left on the cutting floor. However, despite many flaws and plenty of missed opportunities, TOMBSTONE could still be recommended for all western fans, at least those who want good old traditional stories about good and evil in these cynical revisionist times.

Copyright 2000 Dragan Antulov

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