Wyatt Earp (1994)
Every so often in Hollywood, similar themed films are made around the same time and one always gets lost in the shuffle. Back in 93/94 that theme was Wyatt Earp and released first was Tombstone staring Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer. The latter film simply titled Wyatt Earp starred Kevin Costner and Dennis Quaid. I saw Tombstone upon its release on a plane trip back to Australia, and it was this film that sparked my interest in westerns and in the old west as well. It does hold a special place to me (check out our Audio Commentary), and it was because of this I had always been hesitant to see the other film. But I was convinced to finally see it, so I decided to simply blind buy the DVD and it is a decision I am happy I made.
Even though Wyatt Earp came after Tombstone, they are very different films and take different approaches to the main character. I don’t think it is very fair to place a comparison between the two films while looking at them, they do feel very different even though they share similarities. Wyatt Earp doesn’t simply concentrate on one single time and event in Wyatt Earp’s life; no this aims to tell a more full story, from his beginnings to his much later years. It doesn’t just show the good things, it shows the darker and some bad times for him as well. It was a really good approach and it certainly made for an entertaining and interesting watch.
What I really liked about this film and what really drives it, is the story, the characters and the great cast of actors. This aims to give a pretty full picture of Wyatt Earp, who he was, who his family was and how he wound up as such a famous individual. The film is a good 3 hours long, and it really doesn’t feel that long at all, it flows so well that it feels like its 100 minutes long. The first half at least deals with everything that happens before Wyatt and his family relocate to Tombstone. The story told is interesting, and perhaps the hardest hitting is the tragic loss of his first wife and unborn child. This really propels things for Wyatt, and he is destroyed for a good while. The performance during these earlier times by Kevin Costner is really inspired and he does a surprisingly good job. The actors who show up during this first half do a really good job, and I was really happy to see Martin Kove pop up for a small but meaningful role.
The second half in Tombstone feels very different but still in the tone of the film, it feels a lot more grand and dramatic. Things change as they make it there, but seeds are planted during the meeting of Wyatt and one Doc Holliday (a really great performance by Dennis Quaid). If you are at all familiar with the story of Wyatt, Doc and Tombstone, you’ll know why there is a more dramatic feel, if not, you’ll really have a blast watching it all unfold. I really liked how this story was told and how things were portrayed. I was impressed as well by Linden Ashby (aka Johnny Cage) as Morgan Earp, he really hit some great notes and it was a perfect casting choice. There are just too many in the cast to name them all off, I guess the other stand out was Mark Harmon as Sheriff Behan, good stuff there.
In all this is a really solid film and very entertaining and enjoyable. Costner does a really great job, and he definitely gives us a different Wyatt Earp. The direction and script were solid, but one of its let downs was the cinematography, especially during the night scenes. It wasn’t too bad during the day and there are some really nice shots, but it does bring down the quality from time to time. It wants to be an epic and for the most part it is, as a fan of the western this is definitely one of the good ones, recommended viewing.