Wyatt Earp

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The life of wild west gunslinger Wyatt Earp - from boyhood to the fateful shootout at the Tombstone showdown.


The theme for the old Wyatt Earp TV series went "Long may his fame, and long may his glory, and long may his story be told." This long they could never have imagined, as the latest film to tell the Earp legend proves a somewhat overblown business that falls some way short of being truly epic.

Lawrence Kasdan simply doesn't make bad movies, however, and this handsomely-mounted effort to wed authenticity to classic Western themes is honourably watchable, if unexciting for its first two hours. But it strives too hard to inflate vignettes into Big Moments and music swells under "significant" tableaux in an attempt to stir the senses as Kevin Costner's Earp strikes stolid poses like Scarlett O'Hara against pyrotechnic skies. Surprisingly it lets anticipated high-points like the gunfight at the O.K. Corral slip, reducing it to a (realistically, as it happens) scuffle in the street with baddies whose identities have never been established.

The screenplay, by Kasdan and Dan Gordon, begins in Wyatt's boyhood in the Civil War and jumps, with a variety of hair lengths for Costner, around the States through tragic first love, a youthful crime jag, and a spell slaughtering buffalo - Lt. Dunbar would be horrified! - to, eventually, his fabled career as a lawman in which Earp and his faithful crew of brothers and buddies acquire a merited reputation for brutality en route to their rendezvous with destiny and the Clanton gang in Tombstone.

We're an hour-and-a-half into the movie before Dennis Quaid materialises, marvellous as a gaunt, volatile Doc Holliday, dying of TB, but bringing the film to life. Indeed, alphabetically the credits promise a heck of a cast, but all of the characters are thinly sketched except Costner's Earp, with even Quaid under-used. Others - Gene Hackman as Pappa Earp, Isabella Rossellini as Doc's consort, Tom Sizemore as Bat Masterson - simply vanish, leading to the feeling that, despite its length, this has been mercilessly edited.

Most uncharacteristically from Kasdan there is a certain phoniness in the dialogue that frequently comes across as oration rather than conversation. Despite its length, the film is still confusing on salient details, and even the stoutest Costner fan's patience will be tested by Earp's in-need-of-redemption doings and family dynamics in the frankly tortuous third hour. Handsome to look at, and with some wonderful flourishes, this is by no means a disaster - just a disappointment from some of Hollywood's biggest talents.

Tedious Western, that's a disappointment given the talent involved.