Projections - Movie Reviews

Wyatt Earp

Kevin Costner's newest leading role is in the title role of this beautiful new film based on the life of one of the most controversial figures in American history.  Although he became notorious as a gunslinger and peacekeeper in the West, Wyatt seemed destined, as a young man to become a lawyer and judge like his father and grandfather.  It was only when his beloved first wife, Urilla (Annabeth Gish) died tragically of typhoid within months of their wedding day that Wyatt's future plans became dramatically altered.  He slid into a deep depression, alcoholism and lawlessness which he gradually overcame after his father came to his rescue by bailing him out of prison and inspiring him to remain faithful to his brothers.  Nicholas Earp (Gene Hackman) believed that "your only salvation in life was to stick with your family."  A strong patriarch, Nicholas Earp instilled in Wyatt a sense of what it meant to be a man.  Although he believed in the law, he passed on to his sons his understanding of the West's inherent violence and the necessity to meet viciousness with force.

Wyatt worked as a buffalo hand during the building of the transcontinental railroad and then became a lawman, along with three of his brothers, in the cattle towns of Kansas and Arizona.  It was in Kansas that Wyatt formed a friendship with Doc Holliday (Dennis Quaid), the cynical dentist and gambling man who was also known by many as a dangerous, hot-headed killer.  Doc Holliday became "an adopted black sheep adjunct to the family" - the only non-family member to join Wyatt in the infamous "Shootout at the O.K. Corral".  Dennis Quaid demonstrated his devotion to the role by losing 43 pounds in order to successfully land the part he'd wanted to play since he saw Gunfight at the O.K. Corral as a child.  As he says, "You always sense that this (Doc Holliday) is a terribly troubled, tortured, damaged man who has a kind of obsessive devotion to his friend.  They make a connection, it's almost mysterious, and Doc never waivers once he's made that commitment."

The gunfight at O.K. Corral on October 26, 1881, was the culmination of the rivalry existing between the Earps and the Clanton-McLaury gang.  When the Earps transformed Tombstone into a settled, law-abiding town, Ike Clanton lost his power.  As the production notes infer, "the Shootout wasn't so much personal as it was a statement of resistance to the change that was sweeping the West.  The lawlessness of the cowboy era was coming to a close and this was simply a sign of the times."  Director Lawrence Kasdan adds, "One of the reasons that the gunfight at the O.K. Corral looms so large in our mythology is that, of the hundreds of gunfights that occurred in the West, this one had three brothers walking down the street with their good friend.  And the friendship is terribly important...(They) went down to face the enemy -- to stand beside Wyatt in the worst of circumstances."

Wyatt Earp is a three hour cinematic extravaganza.  With over 100 speaking parts, a company of between 250-400 professionals, 1000 extras, 70 horses and 200,000 pieces of wardrobe, it successfully captured the Wild West period beautifully and authentically.  Its visual appeal makes it a pleasure to watch and a "big screen" must.

Adding to the film's plot are the women in the Earp family.  Although each brother brought a woman into the circle of their friendship, nothing could compete with the strong devotion they had for each other.  This was frustrating to the wives who resented Wyatt's (the family leader) hold over their lives.  In key roles, as Wyatt's three wives, are: Annabeth Gish as Urilla, Wyatt's beloved first wife who died tragically young of typhoid; Mare Winningham as Mattie, the prostitute who became Wyatt's common-law wife; and Joanna Going as Josie, the gutsy young woman who became Wyatt's enduring love and wife for 47 years until his death.

Wyatt Earp was filmed in New Mexico where Director Lawrence Kasdan was pleased to find everything he needed -- a Ghost Ranch in Abiquia, the Indian pueblos of Tesuque, Santa Clara and Zia; a corn field at Governor Bruce King's ranch, and the famed Cumbres and Toltec Steam Railroad.  The effects of these breathtaking surroundings, a star-studded cast and an intriguing story will be a real treat for many this summer.

Wyatt Earp


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