Director: George Pan Cosmatos
Genre: Western, Action
Buena Vista Pictures
I love a good western. The lawlessness, the duels, the barfights, the uninhibited drinking, smoking, and gambling, the old timey piano music. Westerns are everything our claustrophobic modern lives are not, thus providing a fabulous sense of escapism. There’s one problem, though. A lot of westerns are badly dated in their style, dialogue, and/or overtly racist and sexist content. As a result, I am always thrilled to have something a little more modern to watch.
Note the qualification of “a little more modern.” Say hello to Tombstone. Released in 1993, the film follows Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell) and his brothers as they move to Tombstone, Arizona in hopes of striking it rich. Naturally, they end up involved in the field of law enforcement and the tale turns to one of action-packed, 1990s-style revenge.
While the gunfighting thrills are plentiful, the plot is a fairly standard one. What really makes this movie a gem is the cast. I know a list of stars that features Bill Paxton and Val Kilmer doesn’t seem particularly impressive, but the ensemble gels in a way that is wonderful to watch. Even with an enormous cast, nobody gets lost, and each member is a complete character. Kilmer, in particular, gives what may be the best performance of his career as Doc Holliday, a boozed up, drug addicted gambling man dying of tuberculosis. It’s hard to take your eyes off him, and if you’re a fan of quotable characters, look no further. I seriously cannot overstate how fun it is to watch him in this role.
Is there anything revolutionary about this movie and its plot? No. Should you watch it? If you’re a fan of the action western, absolutely. It’s clear that a lot of care went into the film’s design, and all of the western tropes you know and love are there. There’s even the obligatory misguided attempt at a romantic subplot, but the fast pace of the film means you don’t have to sit through it for long. Another plus is that this movie knows exactly what it is and often plays itself tongue-in-cheek. There are moments that are genuinely hilarious, especially when they involve Kilmer’s character. The dialogue is snappy, and combined with the chemistry of the cast this film is something like the Lethal Weapon of westerns.