The Wild West was a chaotic place with a chaotic history. This film seeks to capture that chaos and it succeeds on many levels. The story was written by Kevin Jarre and brought to film by director George Cosmatos, who did not have many impressive films under his belt beforehand. The end result was a commercially successful hit with decent reviews by critics.
The film takes place in the latter part of the 19th century, when railroads were just beginning to populate the western United States. The story follows Wyatt Earp, the famous law man, as he attempts to retire to the city of Tombstone, Arizona with his brothers Virgil and Morgan. Unfortunately, as one might imagine, he does not manage to stay away from trouble for long after a gang known as the Cowboys invade the town.
With only one sheriff, and an elderly one at that, the town does not have much hope of defending itself against the rowdy gang. Eventually, Wyatt decides to take them on, along with his brothers and friend, Doc Holliday. Holliday is in town after committing a string of crimes across the southern United States and he is also in the late stages of tuberculosis infection. Along the way, Wyatt meets a stage actress named Josephine Marcus who entices him away from his opium-gulping wife. The most interesting aspect of this film is that it is based on a true story.
Wyatt Earp and his brothers Virgil and Morgan are played by Kurt Russell, Sam Elliott, and Bill Paxton, respectively. Doc Holliday, their comrade in arms, is played by Val Kilmer. The Cowboy gang includes Curly Bill, Johnny Ringo, Ike Clanton, and Billy Clanton, who are played by Powers Boothe, Michael Biehn, Stephen Lang, and Thomas Haden Church, respectively. Some actors making cameos include Charlton Heston, Jason Priestley, and Billy Zane.
The sets in this film are really great and appear to have been constructed from scratch just for the film. The dusty and rickety town of Tombstone looks thrown together, but that is realistic for the time period and area. The film also takes place in other areas of the western United States, including the Northern grassy plains. The interior sets are equally impressive, including the Earps' bar/casino that they purchase after coming into town.
The acting in the film is really good, featuring what I considered to be Val Kilmer's best performance. He plays the role of Doc Holliday with vigor, giving him the unusual attributes of intelligence and articulate language, which is something that you would not expect from an outlaw. Kurt Russell's acting is believable, but I always feel like his emotions and acting are forced, rather than natural. I'm not a huge fan of Bill Paxton's acting either, but it works. The cowboys give great performances, particularly Curly Bill and Johnny Ringo.
The film features an original score by composer Bruce Broughton, who did a great job of capturing the spirit of the west. There are foreboding songs, as well as calmer songs to mirror the dramatic sequences in the film. The music does add a lot to the film, particularly the gunfights, since it features quick and surprising jolts of different instruments. This adds to the suspense and helps to keep the viewer on the edge of their seat.
Overall, I felt the film was great for what it was: an excellent western. There are a lot of westerns already, but this one takes some different, darker approaches with a more modernized method. The performance of Val Kilmer alone makes this film worthy of a watch.