George P. Cosmatos | 119 mins | TV | 16:9 | USA / English | 15 / R
The story of the OK Corral is one I know by name only; I haven’t even seen the Doctor Who serial about it. I shan’t be doing a comparison of this to the numerous other cinematic retellings then, though such ground was already superbly covered a couple of years back at Riding the High Country (for a belated entry and full set of links, look here; the piece on Tombstone is here).
Not knowing more than the name, and a few key players, I fully expected the gunfight at said corral to be the story’s climax. Maybe it is in other versions, but here it comes about halfway through. It’s the pivot around which the story turns, however, with the first half building to it and the second handling its consequences. It may not be the climax, but it’s still the key incident.
Much of the film is driven by its characters, I felt, more so than the fights or plots that they embroil themselves in; though it’s still suitably enlivened by action, both dramatic and violent. It’s populated by a helluva cast — lots of recognisable faces, even if some weren’t yet names at the time. Val Kilmer is undoubtedly the stand-out. He starts off by giving a deliciously camp performance, but unveils layers as Doc Holliday’s story unfolds. Other notable performances come from lead Kurt Russell and villain Michael Biehn, though the latter is slightly shortchanged by having to share villain duties with an unremarkable Powers Boothe.
That may be down to historical accuracy. There’s a distinct feeling of veracity to proceedings, and as I understand it a concerted effort was made in that regard. The Movies perhaps shouldn’t worry about sticking too closely to fact (if you want an accurate lesson, read a textbook), but when they can manage to be both factually accurate and entertaining, it’s all the better. Cosmatos & co appear to balance this well.
Tombstone was released after the revisionist Unforgiven, but it doesn’t feel like it. Somehow it’s more traditional, almost like it was made in the ’70s or ’80s — not to the extent of portraying a simplistic “white hats good, black hats bad” mentality of earlier eras, but with less of the ’90s gloss or awareness that might be perceived, through contrast, in Eastwood’s Oscar-winner. Not that there’s anything wrong with that — I liked it very much.
This review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2012. Read more here.