Lawrence Kasdan (SILVERADO) co-wrote and directed this disastrous star vehicle for Kevin Costner, a slow-moving, portentous biopic that purports to tell the real story of American icon Wyatt Earp. In the days of westward expansion, Nicholas Earp (Gene Hackman), a stern attorney who preaches respect for the law, takes his family to California. Young Wyatt...read more
Lawrence Kasdan (SILVERADO) co-wrote and directed this disastrous star vehicle for Kevin Costner, a slow-moving, portentous biopic that purports to tell the real story of American icon Wyatt Earp.
In the days of westward expansion, Nicholas Earp (Gene Hackman), a stern attorney who preaches respect for the law, takes his family to California. Young Wyatt displays an affinity for shooting things, but he's nauseated when he witnesses his first gunfight. The grown Wyatt (Costner), now a
teamster, would rather elude bandits than kill them. In camp, he refrains from dallying with local prostitutes, since he's pledged his heart to the lovely Urilla (Annabeth Gish), whom he soon marries. Settling in Missouri, he works as a constable while studying law under his grandfather Judge Earp
(Giorgio Tripoli). Marital bliss is cut short when pregnant Urilla dies of typhus. A bitter Wyatt burns down their house, and soon gets arrested for horse theft in Arkansas. Dad arrives to bail him out and instructs Wyatt to flee the state.
Briefly a buffalo hunter, Wyatt bonds with Bat and Ed Masterson (Tom Sizemore and Bill Pullman). He takes a job at a casino run by his brother James (David Andrews) in Wichita, where an encounter with a pistol-packing psychopath earns him a job as town deputy. Brother Morgan (Linden Ashby) joins
him on the force, and soon they're recruited by Dodge City authorities. In Dodge, Wyatt, Morgan, and Virgil (Michael Madsen) join the Mastersons in disarming cowboys and slugging drunks. Wyatt warns Ed that he's too "affable" to be an effective lawman, but the Mastersons oust Earp from the force
for excessive brutality.
As a bounty hunter for the railroad, Wyatt meets charming Doc Holliday (Dennis Quaid). Meanwhile, "affable" Ed is gunned down by a drunk, vindicating Wyatt and paving the way for his return to Dodge. Shortly after the arrival of Doc and his companion Big Nose Kate (Isabella Rossellini), the
Earps head for Tombstone, Arizona, where they return to jobs as lawmen. Wyatt lives with Matty (Mare Winningham) but desires Josie (Joanna Going), a singer who is kept by corrupt Sheriff Behan (Mark Harmon). Simmering controversy with the Clantons boils over when Curly Bill Brocius (Lewis Smith)
kills the town marshal. Ike Clanton (Jeff Fahey) threatens further mayhem. In a duel at the OK Corral, Doc, Morgan, and Virgil are wounded, Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury are killed, Ike flees in fear, and Wyatt stands tall.
Behan arrests the Earps for murder, but the charges are dismissed. Morgan is killed by a sniper and Virgil crippled by another hidden gunman. The Earps leave for California, but Wyatt and Doc hunt down the shooters. Wyatt kills Frank Stilwell in a train station, shooting the dead body
repeatedly, and bests Curly Bill and Johnny Ringo in a shootout. An epilogue showing Wyatt and Josie on their way to the Alaska gold rush 17 years later invites the audience to reflect on myth and history: "Some people say it didn't happen that way," Wyatt murmurs, only to be reassured by Josie
that it did.
But, of course, it didn't. Among the juicier pieces of Wyatt's history left out of this bloated 195-minute still-life are: his conviction for pocketing fines as a policeman in Wichita and dismissal for brawling with other officers; his string of arrests for vagrancy and bunco rackets; and his
later life as a celebrity hobnobbing with Tom Mix and William S. Hart. Through his amazingly successful autobiography, Frontier Marshall, Earp was instrumental in shaping popular legends about western gunslingers, especially himself. Kasdan's film wears some of the trappings of a comprehensive
biopic, but it eschews serious examination of the man, taking many of the claims in Earp's book at face value and failing to present us with any hint of the truculent, bombastic con artist Earp unquestionably was. It's not that Hollywood westerns have any obligation to render the American past
with scholarly authenticity; it's just that Earp's real story is incomparably more engaging, complex, and suggestive than this film's turgid narrative.
There is little of the quirky dialogue or offbeat casting that enlivened SILVERADO here. The screenplay, originally written for a TV miniseries, is dramatically shapeless and clumsy. Only Quaid is given anything memorable to say, and even he gets stuck with lines like, "I know sometimes it ain't
easy being my friend, but I'll be there when you need me." Nearly every actor has done better work elsewhere, although Winningham is fine as the laudanum-addled Matty. Quaid's phlegmatic Doc Holliday isn't nearly as effective as Val Kilmer's deadpan portrayal in 1993's TOMBSTONE. Most damaging to
the film, however, is Costner's dull, listless performance as Earp. He simply lacks the gravity and stature necessary to handle the mythic baggage of this emblematic American role. (Violence, adult situations.)