I hate westerns. This is no secret. I've written about and discussed my hatred for westerns several times. It was a surprise to get such a strong recommendation to watch Tombstone the other day, knowing how much I dislike westerns. I was told that this might be the pinnacle of western films and I've been doing myself a disservice by not seeing it. Those are some pretty damned big shoes to fill, but after all's said and done I think the film manages to be everything it was touted to be. Hell, it even gave me a new appreciation for westerns.
I went into Tombstone knowing very little about it. For whatever reason, I constantly found myself confusing it and The Quick And The Dead (I think starring Sharon Stone and Leonardo DiCaprio) in the past. I don't know why and probably could have avoided admitting it, but whatever. I own it when I make a fool of myself. So, what did I know about this film? I knew Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer were in it and I think I knew they played Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday respectively. Other than that, there was some horse-riding, probably gun-shooting, and general western behaviour. The film does contain all of those things, so I wasn't wrong. I certainly wasn't very well-informed otherwise, however. Basically, Wyatt Earp and his brothers move to Tombstone, Arizona to make their fortunes. Earp is a famed lawman by this point and has retired from being a sheriff or marshall, or whatever the hell his title was. Anyways, Doc Holliday is in Tombstone as well. There's a rough and tough gang of thugs called "The Cowboys" that have been terrorizing the town and through a chain of events, the Earp brothers step into the position of lawmen to defend the town. There are some small side-stories, like how Wyatt Earp's lady is addicted to opium and how he's in love with some travelling actress/singer lady. Mainly, everything revolves around the age-old good guys versus bad guys plot.
Like so many other westerns, the bravado and machismo of the male characters is palpable. It seems like every one of them has an ax to grind, a point to prove. etc. I guess that's just how things were back in those days. Conflict was solved by murder. Arguments were solved by murder. Debt was repaid in blood. The value of human life was clearly pretty low. So, what made Tombstone stand out to me? I think everything coming together the way it did really paid off. The cast was really well-chosen, firstly. Everyone played their part quite well and the characters were engaging. The standout character for me was Doc Holliday. He looked genuinely sickly the entire time as he suffered from tuberculosis. Despite knocking on death's door the entire time, he still managed to be cool, calm, and collected. Where the bravado and machismo was rampant, I didn't feel that with Doc Holliday. Was he skilled? No doubt. Was he aware of it? Definitely. That being said, he was a vulnerable character. He stood by Wyatt Earp because they were friends. Where Earp stood sobbing dramatically and alone in the rain when his brother was killed, Holliday would have no such thing. He stood by Earp at every turn and even at his ultimate demise he was concerned with Earp. There was a definite bond there and I think it made a good cowboy movie into a great film. The good guys were good and the bad guys were bad. Lines were drawn in the sand immediately and this movie knew what it was going for. The plot, although very standard and cookie-cutter, was played out well. The characters were clear with their intentions. The settings and filming were done well. It wasn't stylistic or dramatic just to be stylistic or dramatic. In the aforementioned scene with Earp standing out in the rain, I never felt like it was too heavy. Apparently the lightning in that scene was real and the director is very proud of it to this day.
Cowboy Western films are undoubtedly very popular. Fulfilling what could be a desire to revisit a much simpler time (albeit filled with violence at every turn) or maybe a want to save the damsel in distress, western films certainly have an audience. Would I count myself as one of that audience? I don't think I would generally. I dislike westerns a lot. I think the music is really grating. The grandness and epic intensity of the scores are generally lost on me because the plot doesn't demand the same grandness in my mind. Knowing that my view towards westerns is tactfully less than sunny, I'm pleased when I can find a find that stands out above the rest. I really liked Tombstone. It kept me entertained the whole time and I give full credit where it's deserved. I recommend this movie to those looking for a great western, or really just a great story of love, loss, and tuberculosis.
Oh. It's got Michael Rooker in it and he's fucking awesome.