• FILM

  • SEARCH FOR

Wyatt Earp

Directed by Lawrence Kasdan. Starring Kevin Costner, Dennis Quaid, Gene Hackman, Linden Ashby, Michael Madsen, Joanna Going, Jeff Fahey, Mark Harmon, Jobeth Williams, Mare Winningham, Catherine O'Hara, Isabella Rossellini. (1994, PG-13, 191 min.)

REVIEWED By Robert Faires, Fri., July 1, 1994

Wyatt Earp wasn't Gandhi, but you wouldn't know it to look at this weighty Western. It gives the famous lawman the Richard Attenborough treatment: a three-hour, cross-continental, epic look at the man's life in its entirety, complete with sweeping vistas and swollen orchestral score. Earp's life story is certainly deserving of a film. But the screenwriters -- Dan Gordon and director Lawrence Kasdan -- aren't content to tell the story; they try to use it as a metaphor for the taming of the American West (few Westerns are as laden with mythic pretensions as this one) and worse, they insist -- as Attenborough does -- on trying to explain Earp to us. “See?” they say, showing us Earp's father (Hackman) sermonizing about the importance of blood ties, “That's why he was so tight with his brothers.” “See? He was nice until his wife died. That's why he turned cold.” It's this “biography as student thesis” that gets numbing after a while. The first half is little more than psychological extrapolation, dispensed in quick bite-size scenes, full of dramatic shorthand -- tail-end of eulogy, Wyatt walks bitterly from wife's grave, cut -- so the writers can cram more material into the film. It all comes off as too sketchy and too obvious, and after 90 minutes, we're bloated with incidents but still hungry for satisfying drama. It's like we devoured a huge tub of popcorn; we're stuffed but feel empty. The second half might have made an affecting movie on its own. It focuses on Wyatt's law enforcement career and draws taut the tensions between the Earp brothers (Costner, Ashby, Madsen) and their wives (Winningham, Williams, O'Hara). Plus, it sings with the live-wire performance of Quaid as the tubercular Doc Holliday. Gaunt as a scarecrow but sporting a voluptuous Georgia accent, Quaid spouts courtly sarcasm with the edge of a terminal case. He looks to be having a big time. And he looks to be the only one. Most everybody else appears as grim and pained as dental patients. You almost expect it of Costner nowadays, but it doesn't help us feel Earp's pain. And it's disheartening to see artists like O'Hara and Hackman, whose brilliance lies in how they play humor, taking everything so seriously, not to mention Kasdan, whose other films (Body Heat, Big Chill) and other Western (Silverado) pulse with humor. Yes, this is a serious look at Wyatt Earp's life. Way too serious.

READ MORE
More Lawrence Kasdan Films
Darling Companion
Diane Keaton leads a wonderful cast in this so-so story about a lost dog and its unmoored people.

Marjorie Baumgarten, May 18, 2012

Dreamcatcher
Dreamcatcher, an adaptation of Stephen King’s unwieldy horror/sci-fi novel of the same name, is either a canny metaphor for the country’s current paranoia regarding terrorism ...

Marc Savlov, March 21, 2003

More by Robert Faires
Star Stand-Ups Descend on Austin
Star Stand-Ups Descend on Austin
Dates just announced for Rock, Silverman, Crystal

Dec. 6, 2016

The Dead Boy Detectives
The Dead Boy Detectives
Vertigo's adventurous adolescent apparitions are an appealing throwback to the junior sleuths of the past

Dec. 2, 2016

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Wyatt Earp, Lawrence Kasdan, Kevin Costner, Dennis Quaid, Gene Hackman, Linden Ashby, Michael Madsen, Joanna Going, Jeff Fahey, Mark Harmon, Jobeth Williams, Mare Winningham, Catherine O'Hara, Isabella Rossellini

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
This content has not been formatted for this window size.
Please increase the size of your browser window, or revisit this page on a mobile device.
NEWSLETTERS
AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

Updates for SXSW 2017

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)