Collating Kurt Russel and Val Kilmer on the dusty streets of Tombstone is a pairing that is both unlikely, but sheer perfection. Tombstone, directed by the great George P. Cosmatos, is a Hollywood western releasing decades after the initial boom of the genre. With the potential to revive the classic western format, however briefly, it’s nice to see that the efforts of Cosmatos, Russel and Kilmer don’t go to waste, as they bring together one of the better westerns of the post-boom period. Re-telling the build-up and events of the infamous Gunfight at OK Corral, Tombstone is a fantastic achievement that shows no matter how overdone a genre may be, you can still pool something incredible together with the right cast and crew.
Russel leads the charge with his performance as Wyatt Earp, a former marshal of the law who wishes to retire to the mining town of Tombstone with brothers Virgil (Sam Elliot) and Morgan (Bill Paxton). His easy-going lifestyle is disrupted almost immediately by a band of vicious thugs, and the three brothers, along with Doc Holliday (Kilmer) take the law into their own hands. The reluctance they feel at becoming lawmen once again is well mused on, as they take matters into their own hands more or less against their will. The build-up and pacing of these moments is well-rounded, and the first half-hour of the film is quite probably some of the best revisionism the modern western has ever seen. Putting to rest a handful of more expected, exuberant cliché whilst at the same time building the Earp brothers and Holliday as forces to be reckoned with.
Cosmatos’ direction is marvellous, with some achingly good shots that bring Tombstone to life with great effect. Dusty streets, an abundance of bars, and costume design that brings the piece to life with such superb class. Gritty, but with a tinge of love for the glory days of the genre, there’s a nice mixture of classic moments to rope in the more ordained western fan, but a hefty dose of new, Hollywood prose to keep Tombstone feeling like a lively, modern affair. The inclusion of Charlton Heston, Stephen Lang and Billy Bob Thornton in smaller roles keep that big-budget charm in check with audiences who may need it.
A rather weak final act stops this one from being perfect, though, and as we see Wyatt and Holliday traverse the west, hunting down the last of the cowboys, the quick-cut montage shots of these escapades feels rather rushed, an ultimately poor wrap for characters we’ve spent the better half of two hours with. Still, it can be forgiven somewhat, the preceding gunfights and supporting performances are more than enough to make for an enjoyable experience. Steely roles that play well with a directing style that capture the essence of the genre so perfectly, Tombstone relies heavily on its affection for the events it looks to depict.
It’s a strong western on the whole, far exceeding many efforts released during the glory days, Tombstone is a thoroughly likeable piece, filled with set-pieces, gunfights, and great character development. Not quite the titan of excellence I had expected, but still a worthy addition to a genre that had laid dormant long before this piece from Cosmatos.