Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Wyatt Earp

Fans of traditional westerns no doubt enjoy “Wyatt Earp” (1994) more than general audiences. I think it’s a woefully underrated film, and remember going to see it in the theaters in 1994 and being blown away by how good it was. That was not a popular opinion then nor is it now. But I watched it again the other night and my initial opinion held up for me. I think “Wyatt Earp” is one of the best westerns – and one of the best epics – of the last 15 years.

Yes, an epic, a genre often embraced by audiences yet rejected by the critics. Larger than life characters set amidst the great events of history – that’s what the three-hour “Wyatt Earp” is. It’s a type of film that has sadly gone out of fashion today.

Owen Roizman’s cinematography is gorgeous, giving us sweeping vistas of the West, ably enhanced by James Newton Howard’s epic scoring. This is traditional, old school Hollywood movie making at its most appealing.

I greatly admire the skill and craft that went into its making. Director Lawrence Kasdan keeps the pace sure and steady over the film’s long running time, though the film really picks up once Wyatt becomes a lawman.

Yes, the real Wyatt Earp did live an adventurous life, working on the railroad, and as a teamster, stagecoach driver and a buffalo skinner before becoming a lawman. He earned a reputation for taming the tough Kansas cattle towns of Wichita and Dodge City before earning immortality in Tombstone, Arizona and the Gunfight at the OK Corral.

Wyatt and his brothers Morgan and Virgil were inseparable, much to the consternation of their wives. The family came first – the wives may have been in the family, but they weren’t of the family.

The film doesn’t pain Wyatt as a saint or a sinner. A controversial figure to this day, he was equal parts lawman and vigilante.

The cast can’t be beat: Gene Hackman as Nicholas Earp, the family patriarch; Michael Madsen as Virgil; Tom Sizemore as life long friend Bat Masterson; Bill Pullman as Bat’s brother Ed; JoBeth Williams, Catherine O’Hara, Mare Winningham and Joanna Going as the Earp women; and Mark Harmon as Sheriff Johnny Behan, the lackey of the Clanton Gang in Tombstone.

Special praise must be given to Dennis Quaid for his performance as Doc Holliday. Quaid is one of our best actors and this is one of his best performances. He dropped almost 40 pounds to play the TB-ridden, phlegmatic Holliday.

When “Tombstone”, the other Wyatt Earp drama, opened the year before, much of the praise went to Val Kilmer for his flamboyant Doc Holliday. Audiences couldn’t get enough of him. And yes, he’s great in it.

But you know what? Quaid is every bit as good in the role of Doc Holliday. And so are Jason Robards, Kirk Douglas and Victor Mature. For Doc Holliday is a fool proof role, one the worst actor in the world couldn’t screw up.

Doc Holliday was a former dentist turned gambler, a wounded soul from Georgia, his TB causing him to have uncontrollable coughing jags, extremely cynical but tremendously loyal to his only friend Wyatt Earp – what actor could resist such a role?

And then there’s Kevin Costner in the title role. I’ve always been a big fan of Kevin Costner, and not just because he has a splendid first name. He’s one of the few performers today I’ll go see in anything.

He’s very well cast here and does a fine job. Flinty when he needs to be but incredibly loyal to his family and Doc, Costner looks the part and from what I’ve read of the real Wyatt Earp, he really captures the man’s personality.

I have a feeling time will be very kind of “Wyatt Earp.” Hopefully this epic style of filmmaking will come into fashion again. I can’t wait.


Rick29 said...

Thoughtful and well-written review, Kevin. I agree that WYATT EARP was an underrated Western and, like you, I prefer it to TOMBSTONE. I also liked it better than UNFORGIVEN, which (and I know I'm in the minority) I thought was overrated. Kasdan's SILVERADO also holds up pretty well. It's a shame Kasdan didn't work in the genre more often.

Kevin Deany said...

Rick: I like Kasdan's work too, and am very fond of "Silverado."

And here I thought I was the only one who preferred "Wyatt Earp" to "Tombstone."

Costner's most recent western "Open Range" is a real winner. It's one of the few recent movies I went to see twice at the first run theaters. I hope he can return to the genre soon.

ClassicBecky said...

Kevin, I think your comments on the role of Doc Holliday are right on. I thought Val Kilmer was really good, sort of a sexy, sick Holliday. Kirk Douglas was also very good, but too healthy looking for Doc. Frankly I didn't think I would like Dennis Quaid in that role, although I like him very much. But I was blown away. His Doc was probably the truest to the actual person, and he was truly wonderful.

Kurt Russell in Tombstone played it very larger-than-life, with a lot of tenderness in his performance, really. Also a lot of bombastic over-acting. Kevin Costner, on the other hand, seemed to be the more realistic Earp, a rather hard man, roughly honest, almost no humor in the man.

It's very interesting to see the differences in the two movies. I liked both for those very differences. Great article, Kevin.

Kevin Deany said...

Thanks so much, Becky. Yes, I think Dennis Quaid's Doc Holliday is my favorite. He's just wonderful in the film.

Online Movies said...

Very nice concept.With different thinking.Loved it.Thanks buddy keep posting.Dennis amazing character.