by Brad Nelson 1/1/14
Hicks and Hudson (Bill Paxton and Michael Biehn) from 1986’s Aliens reunite in this retelling of the O.K. Corral story. My favorite film of this event is 1957’s Gunfight at the O.K. Corral with Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. But the Russell/Kilmer effort is a close second.
Kurt Russell, with the help of films such as Escape from New York, was able to go beyond his Disneyesque All-American Boy image. Snake Plissken remains one of my favorite characters, a movie that is a fun romp in a dystopian future. In that film, it was the large eyepatch of Plissken that helped hide the All-American Boy, Russell. And in Tombstone a similar device works as well: Russell sports a gnarly-looking handlebar mustache. Shades of Snidely Whiplash.
Russell does a superb job of playing the no-nonsense tough guy, Wyatt Earp. But this tough guy (somewhat unlike his brother, Virgil) is tired of playing a town marshal and just wants to settle down and make some money.
Unfortunately, the local gang, called “The Cowboys,” makes it difficult for the Earp brothers to just sit back and do nothing. Events take hold of them. History rates Wyatt as the law enforcement star, but it was really Virgil (as also noted in this movie as well) who was more the stalwart lawman. According to Wiki, “[Wyatt] is often regarded as the central figure in the shootout in Tombstone, although his brother Virgil was Tombstone City Marshal and Deputy U.S. Marshal that day, and had far more experience as a sheriff, constable, and marshal and in combat.”
Well, apparently a biography published by Stuart N. Lake after Wyatt’s death cemented, or created, the legend that we all know and love. I haven’t a clue to what the real story is. But it’s wonderful to imagine that it was as it was played out by Russell and Kilmer in this movie.
But, really, this is a Val Kilmer film when all is said and done. Russell is good, and Sam Elliot is a hard-bitten manly rock at his brother, Virgil. But watching this film, you anticipate every scene with Kilmer who plays the “lunger,” Doc Holiday. Kirk Douglas’ portrayal of Doc in “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” is edgy and shows a very violent and callous man. But this performance by Kilmer perhaps bests even Douglas. Kilmer sweats his way to a sickly portrayal of a very edgy, fearless, and dangerous man.
Charlton Heston has a bit role, and it is just that: a bit. Anchoring the villain portion of the film is Powers Boothe. Whether you think of him as the cult leader of Jonestown, or the whorehouse villain in HBO’s Deadwood, Boothe oozes sleaze in this movie to the same awful degree.
Michael Bain is ok as Johnny Ringo, but he seems a little weak in the role. He doesn’t have quite the edge that Stephen Lang does in his marvelous portrayal of the dirtbag, Ike Clanton. Perhaps the problem with Bain is that I kept waiting for him to say, “I say we take off and nuke the entire corral from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.”
Thomas Haden Church (Wings) is somewhat miscast as Billy Clanton. But it should be said that Westerns are indeed in his blood because he gave a fine performance in the excellent Broken Trail (2006) with Robert Duvall. But he’s tough to take as a bad guy.
But all that is a quibble. You’ll love the shoot-out action and the big sound of the booming guns. And Val Kilmer gives his best performance — one that really should have been more formally rewarded with an Oscar. He, too, has come a long way from his good-guy image first evinced in the hilariously quirky Top Secret! with Kilmer as the Elvis-like Nick Rivers.