Wyatt Earp and his gang put their holsters back on to protect their new town of Tombstone, Arizona.
The western is a dying film genre. It has been dying out since before the new Hollywood era, reaching to the height of its popularity in the late 40s, the western began to slowly fade out, only staying alive thanks to Clint Eastwood (“The Mule”) and Sergio Leone (“The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”). That's of course not to say the western ever died or was going to die completely, there was just a boom of new ambitious filmmakers with new and different ideas, and the western was simply forgotten about. Obviously westerns still came out, but they were few and far between amidst the blockbusters, it's only recently that we've seen the western make a comeback, with impressive entrees like “3:10 to Yuma” (the remake), and “No Country for Old Men”. I'm going back to 1993, westerns were about to start their comeback, Unforgiven having just won best picture in the same year, it proved there was still much to say about the old west. One year later came Tombstone, the epic tale of Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell, “The Thing”), his brother Morgan (Bill Paxton, “Independence Day”), and his other brother Virgil (Sam Elliot, “A Star is Born”), as they set aside their old gun slinging cowboy ways to set up business and make a new life in Tombstone, Arizona. There they find Wyatt's best friend Doc Holiday (Val Kilmer, “Willow”), the alcoholic gambler, who also happens to be the best gunslinger in the west. Of course with any changed outlaw story, the group is put to the test when a group of sinister cowboys come to shake Tombstone to its very core. The team must take back their arms and protect the town, and the result is a hyper violent, often humorous, and an overall great time in this familiar setting.
Director George P. Cosmatos (Leviathan, “Rambo II”) takes on the western with a great sense of ease. The town of Tombstone is bustling with life, whether it be the normal townsfolk, to the gambling beat necks, the town bleeds authenticity, and never feels fake. The set design and costumes are absolutely fitting to the time, it feels just like this genre should, it's gritty and hot, but full of life and candor. The town of Tombstone is essentially the main character, and as a whole the old west is too. That's what makes westerns stick out, they use the setting, the elements as it's own character, full of life and danger for our living ones.
The main reason to see Tombstone are for the stellar performances. Kurt Russell is magnetic as the young Wyatt Earp, given the impossible choice to go back to his old ways, or let the town become overrun by the villain. Val Kilmer is the real star here though, almost unrecognizable as the bombastic Doc Holiday, he truly gives the best performance of his otherwise mundane career. He hits every beat with a sense of pride, he's not acting he has become this character and not again do we see that ambition from the actor. The chemistry between the Brothers is always fun, they all have great chemistry and when the fighting comes, the stakes are high, and you'll find yourself rooting for the good guys.
The set pieces are wonderful, full of crazy stunts, explosions, and some of the coolest, bloodiest shootouts I've seen from the genre. The old west is such a dangerous setting, the lands are lawless, with only straight thinking sherifs there for protection, who usually end up getting shot with no consequence, anything can and will go. Westerns are pure escapism, going back to a more primitive time, when human behavior was more animalistic and it was kill or be killed, it's nice to be transported there in such an effective and fun way, it sure beats actually living during those times. Although this is a wildly fun ride, it doesn't come without it's faults. The story doesn't quite live up to it's predecessors before it, and it doesn't do much other than drive the characters from one action piece to the next. The villainous cowboys aren't fleshed out enough to really form much of a care, other than what cool way they're gonna die, the final shootout is a bit underwhelming and doesn't really reward the viewer the way they would want. It also suffers from just a bit too much filler, giving it a bloated runtime, twenty minutes could have been cut off and still have had an enjoyable movie.
Overall Tombstone isn't the perfect western, but it's damn good escapism fun. The shootouts and action are frantic, and they come aplenty. The performance are absolutely perfect, from the leads to the supporting, every one on the star studded cast gives it their very all. Val Kilmer goes above and beyond with his portrayal of Doc Holiday and has not been able to recapture than magic since. Although the action is great, there's just not enough story to justify the nearly two and a half hours of running time, even if the direction is confident, there's enough hiccups in the script to distract from the story a tad, but there's enough humor, action, and setting to make this western a great one. I give Tombstone 4 stars out of 5.
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