I was scrolling through the Simply Film archives the other day when I noticed a shocking dearth of Western movies! Now, dear reader, could I simply abide such a blatant lack of cinematic diversity on my blog? I could not! So I alt + tabbed over to Netflix and scoured the online catalogue for a Western I had already seen, because it happens to be finals week here, and time is a college kid’s most valuable resource.
So, Tombstone. The story follows a retired Wyatt Earp, the grizzled gunfighter and ex-sheriff with a shadowy past, as he travels with his two brothers to the blossoming mining town of Tombstone, Arizona, where the trio hopes to settle down after claiming a stake in the local “hospitality” industry. Soon after arriving, the Earps are beset by a brutal gang of outlaws, and Wyatt finds himself once again in the role of reluctant peacekeeper to a helpless and fragile town. Naturally, tensions soon boil over, leading to the film’s signature moment; the legendary gunfight at the O.K Coral, which serves as the film’s narrative focal point. Joined by storied gambler and friend-of-the-family Doc Holiday, Wyatt and co. must hunt down the remaining outlaws, eventually coming face to face with their psychotic leader, Ringo.
Kurt Russell gives an admirable performance as Wyatt Earp, portraying him as appropriately hassled and ultimately pained by his inability to let well enough alone. Val Kilmer—who, to his credit, steals every scene he’s in—portrays a remarkably Jack Sparrow-esque Doc Holliday, and despite being afflicted with a debilitating case of tuberculosis, comes across as suave and debonair in a way that only a true Western hero can pull off. Director George P. Cosmatos also pulls his weight, and has quite the eye for the weighty action scene, also have been responsible for Rambo: First Blood – Part II as well as Cobra, both starring Sylvester Stallone. And like any Western worth its salt, cinematographer William A. Fraker makes the most of the natural, rugged splendor of the American West. The scope is appropriately epic, and the natural visual atmosphere changes seamlessly from the often claustrophobic confines of the sprawling town of Tombstone, to the relentlessly bleak and strangely desolate beauty of the plains.
Tombstone is a movie that does a lot of things right, but at the same time seems to be bound to a sort of “by-the-book” type of thinking. By that, I simply mean that it suffers a little from a lack of creativity and might not have the kind of vibrant and lively execution that the interesting and rich characters seem to deserve. It sits on the verge of being a really excellent movie, but falls just short of the mark, mostly for its slightly predicable plot and some minor pacing issues.
Despite its few flaws, Tombstone is a very fun film and is guaranteed, at the very least, to hold the interest. After my initial viewing, for instance, I had the insatiable desire to call people “pard-ner” and cheat at cards, to the immense displeasure of my friends and colleagues.
Rating: 4 out of 5