The western is a crowed genre, for every True Grit there is a Johan Hex. For every Django Unchained a South of Heaven, West of Hell. To help Tombstone rise above the chaff director George P. Cosmatos wisely chooses to film most of the action from a distant, allowing the town of Tombstone to revel itself, the ambiance soak in and the background become as much a character as the Cowboys themselves. This is a DVD best viewed in widescreen.
In fact he goes out of his way to make sure that no stone is left unturned in his effort to imbue the 1993 western with an authentic frontier quality. Riders are silhouetted against the sun, the moustaches are luxurious and chewing tobacco is spat to the floor. Indeed all the hallmarks of the John Wayne ere are included; an unlucky soul dragged behind a horse, check. A lonely ranch inhabited by steadfast cowpokes, check. Corrupt poker dealers, check. Lingering camera shots on the combatant’s eyes during a duel, that’s a big check!
While the backdrops are a treat it is the stellar cast that make Tombstone the stand out film it is. Billy Bob Thornton, Bill Paxton, Sam Elliot, Charlton Heston, Michael Biehn and Powers Boothe all clog the roster but they are nothing more than side notes, this is the Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer show. Though special mention must go to Boothe and his deliciously evil laugh, a snicker so vile it would curdle milk.
Russell recaptures the form he showed in The Thing and displays all the quiet menace and sincerity needed to drive proceedings forward, handling both action pieces and tender moments with equal aplomb. Indeed he is so convincing as Wyatt Earp that lines like “Skin that smoke wagon” feel credible.
It is however Val Kilmer’s charismatic turn as the tuberculosis ridden gambler with nothing to lose that steals the show. All the films humour derives from Doc Holliday’s antics but they are underpinned by a compassionate side that is enough to make a grown man weep. Kilmer is by turns; eccentric, droll, hilarious, bleak and heartbreaking. It seems his acting talent knows no bounds.
The only negative is that the women in the film are all one-note characters. Defined by a single trait, be it Irish, drug addict or whimsical. Even Dana Delany (Josephine Marcus) does little more than simper prettily, though as the films run time is a hefty 130 minutes any extra development would push it into bum-numbing territory.
Verdict: After a quick history lesson courtesy of some old west footage and a voice over, Tombstone springs into life and barely stops for breath until a melancholy end. An action packed adventure with excellent performances from Kilmer and Russell. Tombstone might not be “The Good the Bad and the Ugly” or “Unforgiven” but then it’s not trying to be.