Starring: Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott
Director: George P. Cosmatos
Running Time: 133 mins
Tombstone is an American film about a lawmaker who moves to the West of the USA in the late 19th Century, only to see his plans scuppered for a quieter life there by outlaws.
More than just another Hollywood western, Tombstone is an engaging blend of homages to the Spaghetti Westerns of the 1960s and modern, grittier sensibilities. In the end, it doesn’t tell the most gripping story, but its dramatic gravitas, production values and performances are thoroughly impressive throughout.
Now, the western genre can often seem easy to pull off, but more often than not struggles to really capture the imagination. On the one hand, there are the sprawling, epic classics like The Searchers that bring the Wild West to life. Then there are the beloved Spaghetti Westerns that introduce some more theatrical sensibilities into proceedings.
Tombstone, while incorporating elements of both of the above, attempts to bring in darker, grittier drama along with more modern narrative sensibilities. As a result, the film isn’t just an atmospheric look back to the Wild West, nor is it only a swashbuckling bit of entertainment.
Centring on the inner psyche of its main characters as well as their different relationships, there’s a lot of dramatic gravitas at play here, and significantly more than what the western genre is most known for.
What’s more, with an all-star cast that features Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott and Bill Paxton among others, there’s no shortage of on-screen talent here to bring strong emotional depth to the story.
The problem, however, is that that story really isn’t the most enthralling. Although the film starts in a strong place as it pits differing interests against one another in an up-and-coming Western town, the plot frustratingly turns to less-than-stellar melodrama through its latter stages.
That’s not to say there’s nothing of interest in the film, but that its focus on dramatic gravitas is frustratingly undermined by a story that never really captures the imagination.
The film still impresses with its wonderful production throughout, from costumes to sets and a strongly convincing Wild West atmosphere, but it’s really not enough to keep you totally engrossed throughout.
Overall, then, Tombstone is a little bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s an impressive blend of homages to classic westerns and modern sensibilities, featuring good dramatic gravitas and grit, along with strong performances and excellent production values.
On the other hand, though, the story just doesn’t capture the imagination strongly enough to make the film a genuinely engrossing watch throughout, frustratingly falling into melodramatic territory in its latter stages. And that’s why I’m giving Tombstone a 7.3.