Wild Bill Hickok, famed lawman and gunman of the Old West, is haunted by his past and his reputation. Dogging his trail is young Jack McCall, who blames Bill for abandoning the boy's mother and destroying her life. McCall has sworn to kill Bill, and Bill's ghosts, his failing eyesight, and his fondness for opium may make McCall's task easier.
Technically, this Western biopic is a class affair. Director Hill has dug deep into the Western myth and dredged up all its misbegotten souls. However, given that the source material was Peter Dexters excellent novel Deadwood, as a biography of Wild Bill Hickcock, the film is frustratingly slight, covering only the twilight of the sharpshooters career. Hill is too busy trying to replay Unforgivens grim elegy, to give his film individuality.
Capturing little of the books expansive, irreverent tone, Bridges plays Bill in typical Bridges style: aloof, moody and unfocused. In his final haunt of Deadwood Gulch, Bill is preoccupied with something which never becomes apparent, while slowly going blind and suffering irrational mood swings. The movie is full of great scenes Bill tied to a bar-room chair to level the odds in a showdown with the wheelchair-bound Bruce Dern, Bill using a mirror to shoot a whiskey jar from a bulldogs head behind him and colourful support from Barkins vibrant Calamity Jane.
The kernel of this tangy procession of anecdotes is a revenge plot in a sepia flashback we learn Bill once loved and left David Arquettes mother (Diane Lane) who ended up in an asylum and it takes him a gruelling 20 minutes to summon up the gall to face the shooter.
This is a valiant but overcomplicated Western that aims to redraw the lines on Western mythology: with heroes as mere humans, and heroics as distortions of the truth. Despite its skill, you just wish it would cut the revisionism and go injun hunting for a bit.