Retro Review – ‘Tombstone’

Ever since the heyday of the Western, there have been dozens of film adaptations of Wyatt Earp taking on the Cowboys at the OK Corral to bring order to the town of Tombstone. But it was not until 1993, that a movie got it right with the George P. Cosmatos flick Tombstone. Populated with an all-star ensemble who are not just famous but incredibly talented as well. What set this picture apart from all the others which tackled this Western legend is its embracing of the nature of the people who were being portrayed. Sure there are good guys and bad guys; but the bad guys are charming and charismatic while the good guys are not without their flaws and sins. This adds to the depth of Tombstone, because it tears down the myths and shows audiences a gritty realism.


Opening with the baritone vocals of movie legend Robert Mitchum setting the scene to exposition on who; Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday, and the Cowboys were. From there we go right into the action, led by Curly Bill and Johnny Ringo, the gang known as the Cowboys assault the wedding of a rival leaving bodies and destruction in their wake. But their victim promises a day or reckoning, which immediately cuts to Kurt Russell as Earp, but he makes it clear he is headed to Tombstone, not to bring order and justice but instead to make his fortune along with his brother. The Earp brothers immediately become known in the community for running the poker tables at the local saloon, but this brings tension with the Cowboys. Seeing as how this roughneck gang is seen as a stabilizing presence in Tombstone, this rivalry makes a major impact and is bound to come to a head which it does in the now legendary gunfight at the OK Corral. Whereas most movies about the feud between the Cowboys and Wyatt Earp end here, in Tombstone this is only the end of one chapter and beginning of an entirely new story.

After the gang retaliates, against the Earp family, Wyatt and Doc Holliday put together a posse and begin a crusade to wipe them out once and for all. The second half is much more action oriented than the first, but this shift is not abrupt. Rather this is cathartic for the audience as they have now seen the depth of evil this red sash wearing gang is willing to go so seeing Earp get some payback is well justified. Many have pointed out that Tombstone is almost like two different movies sewn together, but they gel together so very well.

tomb1As mentioned before the selling point of Tombstone is the truly all-star cast. Aside from Kurt Russell playing arguably the best Wyatt Earp ever you have: Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, Dana Delaney, Michael Rooker, Powers Boothe, Michael Biehn, Stephen Lang, Billy Zane, Thomas Hayden Church, Hollywood icon Charlton Heston, and of course the scene stealing Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday. Each and every actor and actress truly embraces their character, in watching the behind the scenes features on the Blu-Ray you will find many of the cast members talking about the historical research, they did in preparing for their roles. This comes across on screen perfectly as nobody is entirely good or bad, but rather everyone is a different shade of gray like real people. As the two primary villains Powers Boothe and Michael Biehn portray absolutely captivating characters. Boothe as Curly Bill is loud and charismatic and dare I say funny, while Biehn as Johnny Ringo has an aura of danger and mystique around him in every shot. Because let us be honest, if you are a pure bad guy, you are gonna have trouble inspiring that many people to follow you. In the camp of the black hats, Ike Clanton is the one who benefits the most as Stephen Lang does not portray him as the cowardly thug every other film has, and instead shows him to be a dedicated member of his gang.

Of course what makes this movie so memorable is the electric chemistry between Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. Kurt Russell is perfect as he is always, is as the steely-eyed protagonist who is reluctantly thrown into a gang war defending the town of Tombstone. He does not shy away from the seedier elements of the fabled Western hero, but he does so in such a way that it bring humanity to the man. He is not a John Wayne, larger than life type, but he is not supposed to be. In arguably the finest performance of his career, Val Kilmer absolutely owns every scene he is in as Doc Holliday. A Southern gentlemantomb2 who knows his days numbered thanks to tuberculosis, so he pulls out all the stops in the enjoyment of life and coming off as a Western era rock star in the proccess. But he is more than willing to put aside his ways of gambling and drinking in order to help one of the few friends he has left in the world.

Of course being a Western there is plenty of gorgeous cinematography proudly displaying the American West. From the rustic town ton the sweeping desert vistas, Tombstone is simply gorgeous to look at. With director George P. Cosmatos bringing a great eye for detail, there is an authenticity lacking from many Western flicks.

A very cerebral take on Westerns, bringing modern sensibilities to a classic genre, Tombstone is seen as many to be the perfect introduction to the genre. A beautifully made film carried by a cast brimming with talent, this movie is one everyone should see at least once.