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      ³   WYATT EARP:  Lawrence Kasdan, director.  Dan Gordon &   ³
      ³   Lawrence Kasdan, screenplay.  Starring Kevin Costner,   ³
      ³   Dennis Quaid, Gene Hackman, David Andrews, Linden       ³
      ³   Ashby, Jeff Fahey, Joanna Going, Mark Harmon, Michael   ³
      ³   Madsen, Catherine O'Hara, Bill Pullman, Isabella        ³
      ³   Rossellini, Tom Sizemore, JoBeth Williams, Mare         ³
      ³   Winningham, James Gammon, Rex Lynn, and Adam Baldwin.   ³
      ³   Warner Bros.  Rated PG-13.                              ³
        In a nutshell:  much better than TOMBSTONE (1993), but not
   as good as DANCES WITH WOLVES (1990), and it's not as overly-
   romanticized as SILVERADO (1985), director/co-screenwriter
   Lawrence Kasdan's previous Western epic.  Big-budget Westerns are
   back with a vengeance, it seems, leaving me to eat my own words
   from a review of 1993's HARD TARGET, starring Jean-Claude Van
   Damme.  In that review, I stated the Western was dead, mainly to
   point out how director John Woo had styled TARGET after Sergio
   Leone's spaghetti Westerns from the '60s.  Efforts like
   TOMBSTONE and BAD GIRLS notwithstanding, though, the Western is
   alive and doing well, thank you very much.
        That's not so say WYATT EARP isn't without flaws; at best,
   it's a barely-successful attempt to portray Earp the scalawag as
   realistically as possible.  Sure, it's pompous and ponderous,
   over-long and over-stated, but it thankfully shows us the gray
   areas of the man himself, more apt to use his pistol as a billy
   club than try to talk you out of your guns.  The film doesn't
   make the mistake of pumping Earp up into a heroic figure, posing
   against burning buildings and moonlit nights (… la Kurt Russell
   in TOMBSTONE).  Wyatt Earp the scoundrel, the hero with feet of
   clay, a hard man doing a hard job keeping order in the Old West
   -- this film shows Earp warts and all.  With so much focus paid
   to Earp, though, the deeds of his equally-rascally cohorts, Bat
   Masterson (Bill Pullman) and Doc Holliday (Dennis Quaid), are
   glossed over.  In some respects.  both Bat and Doc were more
   cold-blooded than Earp, but Doc's background is dismissed through
   a few lines of dialogue and Bat is sanitized beyond belief.
        The picture begins with Earp as a boy, wishing he could join
   the Army in the War Between the States, like his brothers James
   and Virgil.  His father (Gene Hackman) catches him trying to run
   off and reminds him of his duty to farm and family.  "Nothing
   counts so much as blood," the elder Earp proclaims over the
   dinner table.  "All the rest are strangers."  The children roll
   their eyes because they've heard it a thousand times before;
   about halfway through the film, though, the audience rolls its
   collective eyes, because screenwriters Dan Gordon and Kasdan hew
   rather slavishly to this subtext.  Drawing this bond between the
   brothers at an early age is an easy out to explain why they stuck
   together so closely throughout their lives.  Why they listened to
   Wyatt, went where he went, and invested in his ventures, is more
   ambiguous.  The film portrays him as the dreamer, the one with
   big plans and the know-how to implement them, so we may conclude
   that this quality draws the brothers to Wyatt.  In each town,
   Dodge City and Tombstone, the Earp spouses complain about the
   constant moving and the brothers' slavish devotion to Wyatt, and
   rightly so.  By the time they reach Tombstone to settle down, you
   wonder just when the boys will get the itch to wander again.  By
   movie's end, the question is answered permanently for at least
   one of the Earps:  Never.
        Earp's portrait as a hard, unyielding hombre doesn't start
   early in life.  His boyish enthusiasm transfers well to Costner's
   early scenes driving a wagon full of staples for railroad gangers
   and wooing his first wife in Missouri.  It's great to see the
   normally terse Costner so full of life in the first part of WYATT
   EARP.  The energy is short-lived, though, because soon after Earp
   loses his first wife to typhoid, he turns sullen, moody and with-
   drawn, playing to Costner's strength, and simultaneous weakness,
   as an actor.  The screenplay seems tailored to his personality,
   warping the facts of Earp's life to the star's on-screen persona.
   I've long thought that Costner would serve as the perfect
   replacement for Gary Cooper in a big-budget remake of HIGH NOON
   (1952), should such a project take place.  "Yup."
        Kasdan backs away from the romanticism of SILVERADO in this
   picture.  Not only does he shed light on Earp's harsher person-
   ality, he also shows us the bleakness that filled many places in
   the Old West.  Earp witnesses a shoot-out as a young boy, an ugly
   thing that lasts a second, consisting of missed shots at point-
   blank range and poorly-aimed shots that hit less than noble areas
   of the body.  Earp's ambush-style method of relieving men of
   their guns doesn't set too well with the Masterson brothers when
   they are all made deputies, so the Mastersons lobby with the
   mayor to have him ousted.  As a detective with the railroad, Earp
   meets Doc Holliday, who's already tubercular and painfully thin.
   Val Kilmer's portrayal of Holliday in TOMBSTONE, while the best
   performance of that picture and a startlingly vivid job at that,
   delineated a Holliday that was physically stronger than expected.
   Quaid has gone in the other extreme.  He lost over 35 pounds for
   the role, walks unsteadily, and subjects his throat to a phlegmy
   voice that's hard to listen to.  And yet, Quaid wrings every
   ounce of Southern-gentleman oiliness that he can from the role,
   the hint of steely menace still burning in his eyes.  Doc
   Holliday again steals the show from Wyatt Earp, as both of these
   films have set a new standard for the character:  a cough-ridden
   refined Southerner with a penchant for dark humor.  I only wish
   Quaid had more on-screen time; surely he should receive a
   nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
        The vistas are wonderful and the camerawork is sharp, but
   the music is disappointingly wooden, much like Costner's
   performance in the latter half of the film.  At 3+ hours, WYATT
   EARP is too long to sit through -- it would have worked better
   with half an hour or more cut out of it.  And with a livelier
   RATING:  $$
/data/webs/external/dokuwiki/data/pages/archive/media/earp.txt · Last modified: 1999/09/08 05:36 by

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