Two's Views Film Review
by: Mary Baker & J. C. Adamson

Wyatt Earp


Director: Lawrence Kasdan 
Cast: Kevin Costner, Dennis Quaid, Linden Ashby, Michael Madsen, David Andrews, Gene Hackman, Catherine O'Hara, Mare Winningham, Alison Elliott, JoBeth Williams, thousands more. 

The story of legendary old-west lawman, Wyatt Earp, and everyone who ever knew him, shown in wide screen for three hours and ten minutes. 


JC: When a film maker presents a three hour film, that alone is a statement. To ask people to spend three hours of their lives with a movie is to imply that they will have a significant film experience. Wyatt Earp is not that significant.

Mary: What a sham! If this film wasn't so darn boring, it might be grouped with the "baffle them with brillance" batch of films, but sadly it cannot even come up to THAT standard. Ho-hum.

It's really difficult to find something good to say about this film. Kevin Costner, as Wyatt Earp may just as well have been starring in a kindergarten play, so stilted and dull was his dialogue. Costner probably damaged his acting career in this film. He at least had potential before this pseudo-epic. Dennis Quaid as Doc Holiday was at least humorous and interesting, but even his dialogue was contrived.

JC: Director Lawrence Kasdan used that disturbing, formal style of dialogue throughout the movie. Characters speak with crisp enunciation, and broad vocabulary, using words that should be contracted and aren't. The style would be more fitted to professors than to gunfighters. Perhaps Kasdan intended it to enhance the pretended seriousness of the picture. It fails.

The technique works fairly well for Dennis Quaid's portrayal of Doc Holliday, but it deserts everyone else in the story. Quaid plays Holliday as a self-aggrandizing gentleman, reduced by tuberculosis and his own personality to something neither grand, nor gentle. It is the strongest performance we see.

Mary: Quaid is effective as Doc Holliday, though he lacks the passion and humor of his counterpart Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday in the film Tombstone.

Costner as Urp...uh, Earp, is the deadest of dead heads. Several characters accuse him of coldness. But Costner's version of coldness is blasť and borders on apathy.

How could director Kasdan be so wrong about the talent? He had so much to work with, and yet Wyatt Earp is really a little production. The only interesting aspects of the film were the sounds of the spurs hitting the wooden floors in the saloons, the squish of leather holsters, the clop sounds of horses galloping on dirt streets, and the costumes. There is something seductive about men dressed all in black. The women's costumes were lacy and colorful even on the days when there was a lot of shooting and a lot of dying. Sometimes I think filmmakers create pseudo-epics just to show off all these fine threads.

JC: Wyatt Earp does try to be grand. I give it some high marks and some low in its depiction of the West. Forties and fifties movies showed the old West as all white, all might, and all right. This film shows the unspeakable horror of buffalo slaughter as we've never seen it, up close and awful. It also gives us some comment on the wives and mistresses of the male protagonists. These women have voices, and get to express believable feelings.

On the less truthful side, native people are shown only in stereotypical roles as bad Indians. And we aren't told that much of the buffalo killing was done to starve the natives.

I saw no black faces in the movie, even though most of it is set after the civil war. The West wasn't like that.

Mary: J.C., the women did NOT have voices! "Give me a gun so I can kill anyone who tries to hurt you," Earp's mistress says to him. Oh please! Meanwhile, Earp's wife, Mattie, (Mare Winningham) is trying to commit suicide because her man is not her man. The Earp wives in general take no initiative about their own lives. They leave all the decisions to the Earp boys, thus enabling them to continue their lives of violence. How many times do we have to relive this same old story?

JC: They say plenty, though. These women may not take action, but in many scenes they shout their emotions in ways that westerns of forty years ago simply didn't allow. Even Mattie's repeated suicide attempts are a voice. We see the damage done to her by the callous Wyatt. Those sequences could not have been included in a Hollywood western in the fifties.

If there's any relevance in this movie at all, I find it in those episodes. It certainly is not in interpreting Wyatt Earp's life as some kind of universal human metaphor. It just isn't. The only human truth in this film comes from the roles of the women.

Mary: OK. We agree the women have voices, but they are the same old tired voices of women standing by their men. Even if women didn't shout their emotions in this genre 40 years ago it's no justification for such a tidbit of truth in a is not enough TODAY.

JC: Wyatt Earp isn't a bad film, but at three hours length, it's indefensible. If five million people see this, it will have consumed more than fifteen million hours of human life. That's like snuffing out about 50 living folks - more than get killed in the plot of this behemoth.

Kasdan shot enough film here to tell two stories. If he had made it into two movies, one of them might have been a decent western. If he had just left half of this one in the cutting room, it would have been better.

Mary: Kinda like this review, eh?


© 1996, J. C. Adamson & Mary Baker

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