Tombstone (1993) dir. George P. Cosmatos
Starring: Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, Powers Booth, Michael Biehn, Dana Delany
By Alan Bacchus
‘A good story well told’ the often-referenced axiom of Hollywood screenwriters is applicable to ‘Tombstone’. George P. Cosmatos’ unflashy, uncomplicated yet taut and engaging retelling of the Wyatt Earp/Doc Holliday/OK Corral story is wholly disposable yet wholly entertaining genre picture.
The cast is roll call of Hollywood b-listers, those character actors with good acting chops yet less screen charisma to command a picture on their own. In addition to the names listed above, look closely and you’ll find heavies, Michael Rooker, Stephen Lang, a pre-Slingblade Billy Bob Thornton, a pre-Wings Thomas Haden Church, a pre-Sex and the City John Corbutt, a pre-Lost Terry O’Quinn, and Frank Stallone!
Kurt Russell came very close to being an A-lister and perhaps ‘Tombstone’ was the height of his celebrity stature, or at least smack dab in the middle of his impressive 20 year career plateau. Though he’s much shorter than the actors who play his two brothers he embodies the confidence of Wyatt Earp admirably.
As written in this version, Earp is a man of contradictions, a former lawman, looking to get out of the peacemaking business and settle down with his family. With his reputation from Dodge City now legendary, wherever he goes people expect him to be on the side of justice. His impartiality only lasts so long, until a group of nasty cowboys start provoking the Earps and their successful gambling establishment. Even when his two brothers take a stand and get deputized as lawmen, Wyatt is resolute. But after some drunken posturing and a fight is declared at the infamous OK Corral, Wyatt finds his neutrality in conflict with his obligation to stand with and protect his family. As such Earp gets deputized, kicks ass at the OK Corral and becomes the new lawman in town.
Val Kilmer managed to rise above everyone else in this one, playing his Doc Holliday with pasty-white sickliness and drenched in buckets of sweat and a drunken James Dean swagger. His confrontation with Michael Biehn who exchange a clever tete-a-tete of gun slinging is a classic scene. Everyone else fits their roles like their worn-in leatherchaps: Sam Elliott as the morally conscious older brother, Bill Paxton as a whiny newbie, Powers Booth's commanding presence as the cowboy leader and Michael Biehn as the wiley assassin. If anything , girl-next-door cute Dana Delany as Earp's temptress is miscast, though she is lovely in that corset.
Despite my high star rating, ‘Tombstone’ won’t make anyone’s list of great Westerns (certainly not mine). Under the Disney/Touchstone magic wand it lacks the texture of say 'Unforgiven' or even the very flawed Kasdan/Costner film 'Wyatt Earp', but perhaps this is why ‘Tombstone’ succeeds. George Cosmatos delivers functional direction to an iron tight script, and when dramatized by his impressive cast of 90’s b-stars, everything just fits right.
‘Tombstone’ is available on Blu-Ray from Disney Studios Home Entertainment