Wyatt Earp arrives with his wife Mattie in the town of Tombstone during the silver boom. He meets with his brothers Virgil and Morgan and their wives. Shortly after taking over work in the local saloon running the poker table, his friend Doc Holliday shows up.
The town has an uneasy relationship with the gang known as the Cowboys. Things escalate when Cowboy leader Curly Bill shoots the Sheriff Fred White. As much as Wyatt pushes against going back into the law business, he gives in when Virgil and Morgan feel they just cannot turn their backs on the town. In fact, Virgil feels that making money off a fearful and oppressed citizenry is pretty awful.
Things mount between the Earps and the Cowboys, culminating in a bloody ride.
Tombstone has a stellar cast. I mean, if you tell me you have a movie with Kurt Russell, Sam Elliot and Bill Paxton, I am ready to hand you my money. But this film has Val Kilmer, Powers Booth and Terry O’Quinn. It features early performances from Billy Bob Thorton, Stephen Lang and Michael Rooker.
Although credited to George P. Cosmatos (Leviathan, Cobra) as director, the majority of the film was directed by Russell after writer and original director Kevin Jarre was fired. This is, of course, according to Russell. If this is the end result, one wonders why Russell has not tried his hand at directing since.
Now, Tombstone is not a historical document. The film ignores Earp’s legal troubles, and glosses over the fact that his wife Josephine and he were not star crossed lovers (she having a gambling problem and he having affairs). The film also ignore aspects of Mattie’s history, only noting that she eventually died of a drug overdose.
But Tombstone is, admittedly, much more a love letter to the traditional western than Unforgiven only a year before. While violence begets violence here, it is made to feel far more justified. In real life, Curly Bill was not merely freed on a technicality. He claimed it was accidental and Earp even testified to this. So, in the film, it seems to lean more towards flat out murder by Curly Bill. The good guys are good, through and through. The bad guys are largely unredeemable. But if you are able to look past the loose play with history, Tombstone is full of rewards.