Warner Bros. // 2004 // 190 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // November 29th, 2007
The epic story of love and adventure in a lawless land.
For a lot of people, myself included, Wyatt Earp represents a parallel to another semi-biopic on the Western icon that was released shortly before this film was, and that's Tombstone. Wyatt Earp, however, was longer and featured a proven star of the Western genre in Kevin Costner (Dances with Wolves). So now that it's out in high definition, does Wyatt Earp kill from a technical point of view?
Dan Gordon (Murder in the First) and Lawrence Kasdan (Silverado) co-wrote the screenplay, which Kasdan directed. Simply put, the film tells the story of the cowboy in a somewhat circular fashion, starting out just before the battle at the OK Corral and then working backwards from his days as a young adventurous kid underneath his father Nicholas (Gene Hackman, Crimson Tide), on through his early times as a buffalo hunter and a deputy in various locales, before rising to prominence in law enforcement with his brothers Virgil (Michael Madsen, Reservoir Dogs) and Morgan (Linden Ashby, 8 Seconds), and his friendship with the tuberculosis-ridden Doc Holliday (Dennis Quaid, The Rookie).
As Judge Patrick Naugle outlined in his review of the film, Tombstone might have been a tighter paced action packed film, but Wyatt Earp seems to be some sort of character examination into the life of the cowboy. And upon further review, this cowboy seemed to have a troubled past, until his dad set him straight, but then he becomes a bit of a bad ass. Aside from being enamored with himself after a confrontation, I wasn't really impressed by this character trait. And personally, he was courting a woman named Ursilla (Annabeth Gish, Hiding Out) who died of typhoid. He later shacked up with a girl for years in Mattie (Mare Winningham, St. Elmo's Fire), and basically started seeing a woman named Josie (Joanna Going, Nixon) who was dating a Sheriff in town (played by Mark Harmon, Summer School), who she left for whatever reason. Mattie starts summarily trying to kill herself and Wyatt...doesn't seem to care all that much? I mean, if Kasdan is trying to create a sympathetic character, he's doing a lousy job.
The film's death blow seems to be that it suffers from a case of confusion or amnesia, where the marketing department is saying one thing while the film itself says something different. Of the film's three stars above the title of the film, you've got Costner, Quaid and Hackman, who is in the film all of maybe five of the film's 190 minutes. The tagline for the film is "love and adventure in a lawless land." Well sure, if your love is someone else's girlfriend while you let your own longtime girlfriend go the way of Sylvia Plath.
As far as performances go, Costner is fine, considering the character that has been written for him, and at some point in the film, I was thinking that Kasdan was overcompensating to erase the bad karma that was spilled when Costner's face was omitted from The Big Chill. And sure, Hackman is one of the "above the title" names and is barely in it, and Quaid isn't bad as Holliday, certainly more convincing than Val Kilmer was in Tombstone. But in supporting roles, the galaxy is all here, Tom Sizemore (Saving Private Ryan), Isabella Rossellini (Blue Velvet), Bill Pullman (Independence Day) and a very young Jim Caviezel (The Thin Red Line) are among the others that you'll spot over this three-hour stroll of a film where the path seems to eat itself every so often.
Technically speaking, I quite enjoyed the VC-1 encoded 2.40:1 widescreen presentation. Owen Roizman (Network) was nominated for a cinematography Oscar for his work in the film and it shows. The image is fairly deep, as it should be for a Western, and the landscape is pretty well represented. The foreground is sharp as well, with images possessing a fair amount of detail and clarity, though this wasn't the case for the entire feature. So aside from a critically panned Western being released on Blu-ray ahead of other Warner favorites like the Tim Burton Batman films, for instance, Wyatt Earp gets...the same Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack? Well, shotguns have a slight subwoofer boom to them, but what else am I missing here? It's not really worth the time.
I was thinking that because this was initially released and then re-released two years later that there was some kind of treasure trove of bonus material, but there's a trailer, some deleted scenes, and two featurettes. The first featurette is "It Happened That Way" and features interview footage with Kasdan, Costner and Hackman as they discuss Wyatt's life, while some other cast members discuss their characters and thoughts on the film. "Walk With a Legend" was a TV special that was released to coincide with the theatrical film dropping to the world. Narrated by Tom Skerritt (Steel Magnolias), this piece runs a little longer at 20 minutes and includes more footage on the cast, and discusses in brief summation the epic film as a genre, with clips from films by David Lean and John Ford. Sure enough, the making of the film gets the bulk of the airplay in the second segment, as the cast and crew discuss the strong desire for authenticity. Yeah, it's PR for the film, but what else did you expect?
With a three-hour film, you'd think that there would be no more deleted scenes to be had, but there's almost a dozen of them, totaling about 20 minutes in length. Some of them are quick, but others, like Wyatt learning Marshall Meagher's philosophy of law enforcement, and another where he talks down someone who wants to take him on, are pretty good. Another scene where Wyatt turns himself in and confesses his earlier sins to Doc was left out too. Which makes me wonder why that stuff couldn't go back in, and the entire plotline with Wyatt and Josie couldn't have been left out? Oh yeah, and Martin Kove (The Karate Kid) appears early on in the film as one of Wyatt's first confronters. Sadly though, he didn't get a chance to sweep the leg.
Wyatt Earp is just another case of pointless filmmaking that borders on self-indulgent. The message that Kasdan was trying to send appears to be clear, although in trying to explain the life or even the key formative years of Wyatt, Kasdan has made him out to be a stone cold killer who turns on a switch of particular ruthlessness when he has a shot of whiskey, and has terrible luck at interpersonal relationships. As far as Westerns go, it's not even particularly memorable, so I'd probably not even have it on a "desert island" list of titles, but if you liked it and have it on standard definition, the video upgrade is enough to warrant a double dip.
Since we all know that Costner pretty much napalmed any bridge of goodwill he had by making The Postman, no such verdict is necessary. Court adjourned.
Review content copyright © 2007 Ryan Keefer; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 190 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* "It Happened That Way" Documentary
* "Wyatt Earp: Walk With A Legend" Vintage Featurette
* Deleted Scenes
* Theatrical Trailer
* Original DVD Verdict Review
* Wyatt Earp History Page