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I Can’t Believe You Haven’t Seen: Tombstone

Next up in our “I Can’t Believe You Haven’t Seen” series is the 1993 western Tombstone. The film is loosely based on the true-to-life events of Tombstone, Arizona, including the story of Wyatt Earp, the gunfight at the OK Corral, and the Earp Vendetta Ride. Originally receiving mixed reviews from critics, Tombstone was a hit at the box office and is widely considered by the general public to be one of the best modern western movies.



Directed by: George P. Cosmatos

Written by: Kevin Jarre

Starring: Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Bill Paxton, Sam Elliott, Michael Bien, Powers Boothe, Dana Delany 

Reviewed by: Rob Leicht

Genre: Western

Score: 1.5/5

Tombstone is the second western I’ve reviewed for “I Can’t Believe You Haven’t Seen”, following The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Unlike that installment, and most westerns, this is one that I was quite excited to watch going in. Tombstone features an all-star cast and a reputation for being filled with great performances. Well, hindsight is 20-20. Tombstone makes The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly feel like an action-packed 5-star movie. In that classic spaghetti western, every shot feels intentional. Tombstone feels sloppy, at best. Sergio Leone was surely rolling over in his grave upon its release.

There is really only one reason, and one reason alone, to watch Tombstone, and that is Val Kilmer’s portrayal of Doc Holliday. He is downright incredible in the role. Doc becomes increasingly drunken and sickly as he is dying of TB, and Kilmer steals every scene from his first to his deathbed. The rest of the performances are wooden and the characters poorly written. Kurt Russell, as Wyatt Earp, provides a lesson on over-acting. He seemingly spent more time grooming his tremendous mustache than crafting a believable character. Other than Kilmer, the villains are the best part of the movie. Michael Bien as Johnny Ringo and Powers Booth as Curly Bill at least bring some personality to their respective roles, compared to the cliched cardboard cutouts that are the Earp brothers.

The first half of Tombstone is beyond slow. A lot of characters are introduced and few are given the screen time necessary to make an impression on the viewer. I can see the attempt at developing the Earps (although their wives remain conspicuously absent), but the writing is so poor that the attempt falls flat. And the action that you would expect from a western movie is lacking throughout the first act. While you can sometimes feel the tension building, it is swiftly rendered moot by a silly bit of dialogue or attempt at a one-liner. The action picks up in the film’s second half, but that action is never really explained. It seems to be there for the sake of itself, occasionally devolving into minutes-long gunfight montages. This is a drastic contrast from Tombstone‘s first hour, which is more of a character study of western archetypes. This makes the movie feel like two separate films, neither of them done particularly well.

Other than the praise for a single performance, I don’t have much else to say about Tombstone other than that it is exceedingly dull. Even the gunfights, which should be a highlight, are more repetitive than anything else. If it weren’t for Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday, Tombstone would be unwatchable. One star for Kilmer, half a star for everything else.

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