Our rating: 3 out of 5
reviewed by Charity Bishop
It has been called one of the greatest westerns of all times. By no means am I an expert on westerns (I did grow up around genuine cowboys!) but Tombstone somewhat failed my expectations. It is a decent picture but not epic and lacks character depth more than anything. Still, it is the quintessential cowboy film that most men will want to see at least once, if not multiple times.
Hoping to retire after his long years as a tough-as-nails lawman in Kansas, Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell) packs up his extended family and moves to Tombstone, a town flush with high-stakes poker games and the promise of profitable silver mining. With a reputation as one of the most notorious gun fighting towns in the west, Tombstone is not much different from the chaos and violence they left behind in Dodge. The presence of Virgil (Sam Rlliott), Morgan (Bill Paxton), and Wyatt Earp is soon noted by local authorities, who attempt unsuccessfully to interest one or more of them in the job as a marshal because justice is hard to come by in the wild west. Wyatt has had enough violence and declines, preferring to spend his days dealing poker at the saloon and reminiscing with Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer). Dying of tuberculosis, Doc wants to spend his last days among friends.
When the marshal is murdered by a drunken member of the "Cowboys," a ruthless gang of thugs identified by their red bandanas, Virgil puts his foot down steps up to bring law into Tombstone. Against his brother's advice, he imposes a "no guns in town" law that successfully puts an end to most of the riots, but in doing so makes some powerful enemies. Knowing he cannot abandon his brothers in their hour of need, Wyatt straps on his six guns and sticks a marshal's star on his chest. His actions that day and what transpired in the aftermath have gone down as one of the most famous events in the history of the west. Tombstone is not a bad film, but does suffer from skimming the surface of the lives of its characters. I never really felt connected to Wyatt, partly because I felt he was miscast and partly because there isn't much to learn or like about his character. His relationship with the two women in his life is barely touched on.
We know Mattie likes opium and Wyatt has a thing for a local actress, but they never bother to show us much of the romance or the jealousy that spurred Mattie into a mental collapse. Only two performances really made an impression: the most flamboyant member of the group is Doc Holliday, brought vividly (and humorously) to life through a charismatic performance by Kilmer. The other is Rlliott as Virgil, the oldest and most sensible member of the Earp family. The actor has such a natural grace and trustworthiness that you cannot help but like him. For carrying an R-rating, Tombstone had a lot less gore than I expected. There are dozens of gunfights and shoot outs, with people getting wounded and/or killed, but I only remember blood spurting once or twice. The film opens with the massacre of a wedding party. After the murder of one of his brothers, Earp and Holliday track down those responsible and kill them. Wyatt slices a man's face open with his spur. Doc shoots someone at close range, leaving a bullet hole in his head. The real problem is the foul language. There are more than a dozen uses of GD, a half dozen of Jesus, one f-word, and hordes of general profanities.
Wyatt has a relationship with both Mattie (who has a common law marriage with him, meaning they live together but remain unmarried) and Josie, an actress who he eventually marries and spends the rest of his life with. There is no sexual content in the theatrical version, but the director's cut contains one premature love scene between Wyatt and Josie. Doc is warned that he must stop "marital relations" if he wants to recover, but it's clear that he has no such intentions. Kate, his live-in prostitute, is rather flirtatious with him, but they are never shown in overtly intimate circumstances. I think the film did not really grab me because I had seen Wyatt Earp a week earlier and that one really gave me a good feel for the characters and their history. It's a good film, but only catch it on television, where the language will have been toned down enough to keep your ears from burning.