Wyatt Earp (1994)
Directed by Lawrence Kasdan
Written by Dan Gordon and Lawrence Kasdan
Starring: Kevin Costner, Dennis Quaid, Gene Hackman, Michael Madsen, Bill Pullman, Isabella Rossellini, Catherine O’Hara
Starting with his youthful disagreements with his father (Hackman), Wyatt Earp (Costner) has looked for a way to establish a home for himself and his family. With his family in tow, Wyatt continues to seek new ways to make his fortune. Along the way, Wyatt is forced to deal with a number of personal and professional disasters that threaten everything he’s worked for. As the challenges continue, the bonds of his family and friendships will be tested.
In 1994, audiences were given a second chance to see the story of the legendary figure, Wyatt Earp. This film came out six months after Tombstone, another Wyatt Earp-based movie was released. Kevin Costner was initially involved with Tombstone, but he left the project over script issues. This paved the way for Costner to team up with director Lawrence Kasdan (Silverado) on this competing version. The screenplay for this film was written by Kasdan and Dan Gordon (The Hurricane). Kevin Costner (Open Range) stars in the film alongside Dennis Quaid (The Rookie), and Gene Hackman (Unforgiven). The movie also stars Michael Madsen (Thelma and Louise), Bill Pullman (Sleepless in Seattle), Isabella Rossellini (Fearless), and Catherine O’Hara (Home Alone).
This film takes up the story of Wyatt Earp from the early days of his childhood in Missouri. The early part of the film seems like an attempt to justify the way he would act later in life. The film details the tragedies and triumphs of his life, sometimes seeming to focus more on the tragedy. Unfortunately, the pace of the film is rather slow, mainly due to the amount of detail the story attempts to deliver. The dialogue is good, but does have moments that feel overly scripted or theatrical for the feel of the movie. Overall, this is a good story, and one that I enjoy. Still, the weaknesses are obvious and likely a big part of the reason that this film didn’t perform well in the box office or with the critics.
The acting in this movie is good, but not great. Of all the stars in the film, Dennis Quaid would be singled out for his excellent work as Doc Holliday. Costner does good work, but the dialogue he’s given makes his role feel overdone at times. Gene Hackman is great in this one, but unfortunately his part in the movie is smaller and makes less of an impact on the overall success. The rest of the cast does a good job with their roles, but the writing gave them little to work with.
The visuals led to the only recognized success in the film. Owen Roizman (Network) was nominated for an Oscar for Best Cinematography, his fifth nomination. The camera work is wonderful, giving the movie the epic feel that the script failed to do. The set design and costuming are also nicely done, creating the many different locations in the story wonderfully. Adding in a nice score and good work on the rest of the technical aspects of the film helps to make this movie better than it might have been.
This is one of my favorite Westerns. Despite all of the flaws, this movie is one that I have enjoyed many times over the years. The story is slow and often meanders through the life of Wyatt Earp. If you’re a fan of Costner, or any of the other actors, it might be worth checking out. I would also recommend this to fans of Westerns who should appreciate the details of the story. Otherwise, this movie just doesn’t meet the expectations it sets with the grand scale it’s set in. At over three hours, it also requires a patience that most people won’t have for it. I give this one 3.3 out of 5 stars.