The Other Tombstone
In 1993 there was "Tombstone" yet another movie in a long line which retold the story of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and the Gunfight at the OK Corral. Then a year later there was "Wyatt Earp" another movie which retold the story of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and the Gunfight at the OK Corral but went a step further as it was not just about that legendary gunfight but more of a biopic about Wyatt Earp himself. Now it has to be said that having two movies which have strong similarities released close together is never a good thing and as such it is little surprise that with "Tombstone" being released first it ended up the more popular of the two movies. But that is not the only reason as whilst "Wyatt Earp" is an interesting movie as it attempts to delve into what made Wyatt Earp the man he was, it is over long and often feels bloated by superfluous scenes. And to be honest whilst I have always been fascinated by Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and the Gunfight at the OK Corral, the events in Earp's life are frankly not enough to sustain a movie which at 191 minutes is trying to be epic.
"Wyatt Earp" starts just before he and his brother's head for the legendary Gunfight at the OK Corral but then pretty much immediately flicks back to Wyatt's childhood. What follows is essentially a biopic showing the various pivotal moments in Wyatt Earp's life which made him the man we know through the legend and the countless movies. So as a child we learn about how his father drummed into him and his brothers about the bond of blood being important whilst the family was always on the movie. We also see how his first brush with death when he witnesses a gunfight made him ill and so it goes on leading its way to and beyond the Gunfight at the OK Corral.
Now the thing is I don't know the real story of Wyatt Earp and so what is shown in "Wyatt Earp" could be totally made up but it builds in creating the character of Wyatt. And if it is true you do end up learning a lot, such as the devastation he felt when his first wife died leading him to become a law breaker. As such every chapter, every pivotal event we see, such as the friendship that Wyatt forms with the Masterson brothers all contribute to explain why Wyatt ended up such a legendary lawman but also one who never seemed to be able to settle, something he picked up from his father.
But whilst interesting for those who are intrigued by Wyatt Earp it definitely doesn't feel like the various chapters in Wyatt's life are substantial enough to sustain a movie of epic scale. And as such it feels like for almost the first 2 hours "Wyatt Earp" is biding time, making more of moments which could have been dealt with more effectively before then hitting the familiar territory of the Gunfight at the OK Corral. It is a shame because if writer and director Lawrence Kasdan had reigned in his ambitions and tried to make "Wyatt Earp" a faster paced 2 hour biopic it would have easily ended up more interesting and maybe more popular.
What is for sure is that "Wyatt Earp" is a big movie and I don't just mean in how long it runs for. One of the first things you notice is a cast which has one star name after another from the likes of Dennis Quaid who plays Doc Holliday through to the likes of Gene Hackman and Tea Leoni who have supporting parts and limited screen time. But it's not just the long list of star names that impresses as the cinematography, locations and costumes are equally as stunning and whilst at times Kasdan is trying too hard to make "Wyatt Earp" look epic there are some beautiful scenes especially those which capitalize on the stunning skyline. And when the skyline isn't capturing your attention those moments of action deliver some great excitement be it a gun fight or watching a stage coach skid around the corner on a dirt track. It's just frustrating that these moments end up feeling sparse because of "Wyatt Earp" ending up over long.
And as already mentioned "Wyatt Earp" features one of the most impressive list of actors I have seen in a while from those who play major roles such as Michael Madsen who plays Virgil Earp through to Annabeth Gish who plays Wyatt's first love Urilla Sutherland. But whilst the cast list is impressive and the likes of Dennis Quaid and Gene Hackman all put in solid performances this is a movie about Wyatt Earp and so Kevin Costner is the centre of attention. Whilst for me not Costner's finest performance in a western he does convey the character of Wyatt Earp quite brilliantly, be it in his early years where he didn't like violence or in those later years where he never could settle in one place for too long. What I did like is that Costner's version of Wyatt Earp whilst being this legendary lawman is not some form of hero; he is a conflicted man who is as bad as he is good.
What this all boils down to is that "Wyatt Earp" is a good movie and in a way works because for those who are interested in the character of Wyatt Earp will learn a few things. But at over three hours it is bloated and in a strange way whilst it does manage to explain how Wyatt came to be a legendary lawman it almost feels like those events in his life which made him the man he was were not enough to sustain a movie with big ambitions.