Throwback Reviews: 'Tombstone'
By Michael Kaye
I'm reviewing this movie for two reasons. One of them is simply because I alluded to it in my editorial/review for The Magnificent Seven. The other reason is because I love westerns. Next to crime dramas and superhero movies, the western is my favorite genre in film, and it all began for me with a little gem from 1993 called Tombstone, starring Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer.
Here's the story. Legendary marshal Wyatt Earp, now a weary gunfighter, joins his brothers Morgan and Virgil to pursue their collective fortune in the thriving mining town of Tombstone. But Earp is forced to don a badge again and get help from his notorious pal Doc Holliday when a gang of renegade brigands and rustlers begins terrorizing the town.
I'm not here to argue whether or not this is the best western of all time, instead I'll just settle for calling it my favorite. It is to me what I'm sure the 2016 Magnificent Seven will be for the next generation of film fans, a love letter to everything the genre has to offer. Here are some of my positives and negatives.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
First off, what absolutely sells this movie is the cast. I joke about this all the time, but whenever Kurt Russell is rocking a mustache in a movie, that's when you know you're going to get a great performance. In fact, everyone with facial hair commits 110% to their characters. To this day, Doc Holliday remains my favorite Val Kilmer performance, aside from voicing Moses in The Prince of Egypt. The bond between him and Wyatt Earp is practically unbreakable, as they're with each other till the end of the line. The rest of the Earp's are great too, with Sam Elliot as Virgil and Bill Paxton as Morgan. Dana Delany makes one hell of a love interest as Josephine Marcus, while Powers Booth and Michael Biehn are deliciously evil as Curly Bill Brocius and Johnny Ringo respectively.
The screenplay by Kevin Jarre is excellent. While this movie is based on real events, most notably the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, do not mistake this for a biopic on Wyatt Earp. As I said before, think of this as a love letter to the entire western genre, where the basic skeleton of the story is your classic "good vs. evil" tale, but underneath the surface the surface there are rich character moments for both the heroes and the villains. You understand the motivations for why everyone is doing what they're doing, for the most part. At the very least, I bought into why Morgan and Virgil wanted to take the law into their own hands, and why Wyatt was initially reluctant when they first arrived in Tombstone.
This is George P. Cosmatos's finest work as a director. Honestly, the guy's kind of a one hit wonder, but dammit he poured his heart and soul into this movie, and I can't help but respect him for that. I apologize for sounding like a broken record, but this movie is like the perfect gateway drug if you're trying to get into westerns, as it was clearly influences by many of the classics, such as Red River, High Noon, My Darling Clementine, The Magnificent Seven, The Wild Bunch and Rio Bravo. Don't worry, eventually I'll get around to reviewing all of those, but we'll cross that bridge when we get there. For now, I could go on for hours about just how perfect everything looks from a production standpoint. In case you weren't aware, this movie was produced by Hollywood Pictures, a now defunct imprint of The Walt Disney Company that focused primarily on genre films aimed at adults.
I didn't think I needed to bring this up in my Magnificent Seven editorial, but one thing that pushes Tombstone slightly over the edge for me is the R-rating. Sure, Antoine Fuqua got away with quite a lot for a PG-13, but at times the movie did suffer from a few too many quick edits. That is not at all a problem with Tombstone. The action is very well staged, you know exactly what's going on, and because the characters have all been well developed, there are genuine stakes raised as soon as the shit hits the fan.
Finally, the music by Bruce Broughton is incredible. It's the cherry on top of the sundae that is this movie, which has done such a great job capturing the spirit of the Old West. It's big, bombastic, and reminds me at times of some of the classic themes from films like The Magnificent Seven and The Dollars Trilogy.
It's really hard to come up with negatives for this movie, especially since I owe so much of my love for westerns to this movie. But maybe that in itself is a problem. Some of the more seasoned western fans may not be as impressed with the story, as there have been several movies made before based on the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral that they can't help but think "been there, done that." Personally, that never bothers me for any story really, as I'm more concerned with the execution than simply the premise, even if it's a story I've seen a thousand times before.
Tombstone is one of my all time favorites, not just within westerns. They nail everything to a tee, from the cast to the writing and directing, hell even down to the facial hair. I would seriously recommend this movie to anyone who is new to the genre and needs help finding a good place to start.
Now I want to hear from you guys. Have you seen Tombstone, and if so what did you think? Also, what was your first western? Drop your thoughts in the comments below, and stay tuned as always for more awesome content coming your way!