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Wyatt Earp


Released in 1994, the year after "Tombstone", Lawrence Kasdan's WYATT EARP was built to be everything that the earlier film wasn't.

At over three hours long with a massive cast, with nearly three times the budget and Kevin Costner fresh off of "JFK" and "The Bodyguard", this was supposed to be an EPIC, classic western.

Nine years before this film, Kasdan created one of my all-time favorite westerns, "Silverado". Sweeping, dramatic, funny and hugely enjoyable, it was a major hit.

Given carte blanche to create the definitive tale of Wyatt Earp and the Gunfight at the OK Corral, EARP looked bound for glory.

It never found an audience, grossing less than half of "Tombstone" had the previous year. Was it Earp fatigue?

Kasdan's epic has strong points that still resonate as you watch it today.

Gene Hackman is powerful as Nicholas Earp, Wyatt's father. Instilling a complete devotion to immediate family and the unceasing desire to keep on the move for new challenges in young Wyatt, those two values would end up defining his life.

As fantastic as Val Kilmer was in "Tombstone" as Doc Holliday (and he was great!) Dennis Quaid is even better here. Infusing every word of dialogue with deliberate consideration and delivery, Quaid delivers the best performance of his career. He absolutely owns the movie any time he's on screen.

Bill Pullman (Independence Day) creates a sympathetic and tragic figure in Ed Masterson and Tom Sizemore is enjoyable as his brother Bat. The ying/yang of Earp's sidekicks, they carve out some dusty and critical space in the tale.

Mark Harmon (The Presidio) is slimy in all the right slick, waxed mustache Cowboy ways as a fellow lawman with questionable loyalties, Sheriff Johnny.

James Newton Howard's music fills the frame, bathing that legendary shootout with dread and drama.

Owen Roizman's photography matches the score in scale and power. Roizman (The French Connection, The Exorcist) lights every scene to perfection and the vistas of all that new unconquered land the Earps are always seeking look fantastic.

But...

For a film that runs over three hours, so many of the supporting characters seem poorly fleshed out. Wyatt's brothers Morgan and David barely resonate even though key plot points resonate around them. At least brother Virgil (Michael Madson) makes an impression.

All the women in Earp's life save one are badly shortchanged. JoBeth Williams (Poltergeist) barely says a word, poor Mare Winningham (St. Elmo's Fire) is a brothel prostitute who spends half the movie telling Wyatt she doesn't want to be his wife and the second half drinking herself to death because he wont marry her. When an actress with the chops of Catherine O'Hara appears and I cant tell you anything about her character an hour after the movie is over, you have issues.

Only Joanna Going (Mad Men) as Josie is given a strong role to play, as the independent woman who gets what she wants, if not always free of conditions.

But perhaps the biggest problem with the film is Costner as our title character.

There is no American actor better at playing earnest that Costner.

But the screenplay by Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back, Body Heat) and Dan Gordon (Rambo: Last Blood) forces him down a very tricky path. During his formative years, he's taught by his father that family is everything, but after his young wife dies of typhoid, his reactions are so over-the-top they don't generate sympathy.

Then the script sees him breaking the law every way he can, facing redemption, becoming a lawman and then blurring the line between the law, justice and revenge so many times that we, as the viewer, can't get any measure of his moral compass.

Wyatt Earp, one of the greatest frontier lawmen of all time...without a clear moral compass?

Compounding the script issues, a final, nighttime showdown scene at a train station is so poorly staged that I couldn't tell what the hell was happening until the final resolve. It's hard to believe Kasdan staged that scene after he had delivered one of the best, classic Western small-town battles of all time in "Silverado".

The film meanders on for far too long after the Gunfight at the OK Corral, with unnecessary side trips and scenes that seem like lame efforts to re-establish Earp as a hero.

Too late.

However, I would sit through this again just to see Quaid's absolute brilliance as Doc Holliday. Quaid lost 38 lbs to play the role, inhabiting the TB racked former dentist with every fiber of his body. His line delivery is worth the price of admission.

Some classic lines, perfectly delivered by Quaid:

"McLaury, seeing your face would be a pleasant change. I understand most of your enemies got it in the back."

----------------

Warren Earp: "Wyatt, you're still a marshal around here, aren't you?"

Doc Holliday: "Sure. But now he's going to be a marshal and an outlaw. Best of both worlds, son."


If Kasdan had found a clearer path through both of those sides of Earp, this might have been the epic it intended to be. As it is, it's a long but strangely undefined, decades long journey alongside an explosive, ungrateful antihero. Unfortunately, that's not nearly as interesting as it sounds.

WYATT EARP strolls it's way through a lot of beautiful scenery to a C.






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