Tombstone may not make the “Best Westerns of All-Time” lists, but the film is certainly entertaining and showcases an amazing portrayal of Doc Holiday by Val Kilmer.
Kurt Russell stars as the famous lawman, Wyatt Earp, alongside and all-star cast of Sam Elliott and Bill Paxton as the Earp brothers, Virgil and Morgan respectively; Michael Biehn (The Terminator, Abyss), Powers Boothe (24, Deadwoon, Nixon, Nashville), Stephen Lang (Avatar, Terra Nova), Thomas Haden Church (Wings, Sideways, Spider-Man 3) as key members of the outlaws called the Cowboys.
Wyatt and his family are settling down to retire in Tombstone, Arizona. Wyatt’s long-time friend Doc Holliday, who is seeking relief in the dry climate from his worsening tuberculosis, is a regular in the gambling establishment they invest in. The Cowboys are terrorizing the town, including the traveling entertainers (Dana Delany and Billy Zane) when Curly Bill (Boothe) murders the U.S. Marshal, but goes free due to fear in the town, the lack of witnesses.
Virgil steps up as the new marshal and imposes a weapons ban within the city limits. This leads to a famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral
The Earps and Holiday confront the armed cowboys when the fatal firefight breaks out, leaving three Cowboys dead, Morgan and Virgil injured. An assassination attempt for revenge leaves Morgan dead, Virgil losing an arm and the Earps appearing to leave town.
A Cowboy ambush from Ike (Lang) and Stillwell (Tomas Arana) is foiled as Wyatt has become the new U.S. Marshall, joined by Holiday and former Cowboys named Sherman McMasters (Michael Rooker), Texas Jack Vermillion, and Turkey Creek Jack Johnson to create a posse which will hunt down ALL of the remaining Cowboys.
The gunfights and dialogue drive a modern western classic.
Critics can dissect the pacing, first half of the film, the lack of a narrative or emotion, but the historical focus is enough to convey the legacy of these characters while making Russell an iconic Wyatt and Kilmer’s Doc an unforgettable gem of a performance.
The cast of Tombstone is truly amazing with Val Kilmer’s Doc Holiday being one of, if not, the best performance of his career. The real Holiday suffered from tuberculosis, presumably contracted from his work as a dentist, an illness that Kilmer portrays realistically and tragically. Doc is soaked in sweat most of the film, pale and frail unless he’s behind a pistol.
Doc gets most of the classic lines, including shooting Bieihn’s Johnny Ringo then saying “You’re no daisy! You’re no daisy at all.” The most famous is the line baiting Johnny into the showdown: “I’m your huckleberry.”
Of course, Wyatt has his moment, storming into a river bank as the Cowboys fired upon him until he gets Curly Bill in his sights. A scene, by the way, which is indeed based on real accounts.
While several Clint Eastwood films easier rank higher than Tombstone, the film is a stable for fun, casual and entertaining viewing in the genre.