Sunday, January 13, 2008

Lightning Showdown: Tombstone vs. Wyatt Earp

Tombstone. The tough and taut action picture showcasing Wyatt Earp's struggles in a growing Arizona town. Wyatt Earp. The sweeping epic biography of one of America's most mythic figures. While both films tackle the same general subjects, they are vastly different. But both films share a glaring similarity, they include two of the greatest ensemble casts ever assembled on film. Let's take a look at how the teams stacked up against one another.
To start things off, we step into the boots of the man that started it all, Wyatt Earp. In Tombstone, the Wyatt Earp Kurt Russell plays is a man retired from law enforcement, looking to settle down with his brothers and make some money. Charming one minute and violent the next, Russell gives Earp a manly yet deceitful quality that suits the part well. Meanwhile, we actually view Kevin Costner's Earp through a long character progression. Coming into law enforcement and mighty reputation through sheer accident and luck, Costner plays Earp more internal than Russell. Unsure he's doing the right thing at times and brooding under the weight of responsibility. Russell gives a more lively and fiery performance with his natural alpha male machismo and bombastic voice. Kevin Costner does his Kevin Costner thing, mistaking cockiness for confidence and forever looking dour even in moments of excitement.
Kurt Russell is Wyatt Earp (He even named his kid Wyatt!).
As important and fascinating a part of the Wyatt Earp mythos, dentist turned gambler John "Doc" Holliday plays a crucial role in both films. Tombstone's Val Kilmer brings a coolness to the southern gentleman turned gambler and legendary gunfighter which exudes self assurance. Coughing fits and exhaustion brought on by tuberculosis can't stop the unrivaled gunman from dispatching his enemies when needed. Whereas Wyatt Earp's Dennis Quaid brings a more human touch to the character. Looking gaunt and sickly, Quaid never strikes as an iconic sight that Kilmer does. Instead, he opts to play a man who's given up on life and taken up alcohol, women, gambling and killing to fill the void. Playing the role closer to the cuff of what Holliday's life was probably like, Dennis Quaid is Doc.
Older brother and lifelong lawman Virgil Earp is played by Sam Elliott in Tombstone and Michael Madsen in Wyatt Earp. Elliott brings his usual strength to the role, playing the hard case of the family. His Virgil is not one to be trifled with and accepts the role rejected by Russell's Wyatt to give the town some law and order. Michael Madsen steps out of the way at every chance to let Costner's Wyatt take charge. Madsen plays Virgil as a simple man, happy to accept his position as a lawman in life and nothing more. Elliott is simply given more to do and does so with ardor and force. Sam Elliott is Virgil Earp.
Rounding out the quartet is little brother Morgan Earp. Played by Bill Paxton in Tombstone, Morgan hangs out with Virgil and backs his brother's play when Virgil becomes the local law. Paxton creates a naive sense about himself, pondering the afterlife and belief that killing a man wouldn't leave it's mark on his soul. Wyatt Earp's version of Morgan finds Linden Ashby playing the little brother as an upstart, itching for and not bothered by violence. His brash competitive nature is offset by a lewd sense of humor most can appreciate. Neither actor or role seals the deal in this case. Paxton's Morgan is fine as the little brother eager to emulate his elders while holding his own and learning about himself. Ashby's Morgan is nearly chomping at the bit, ready to throwdown at a moment's notice or shoot the sh*t to put a friend in a better mood. Too close to call. Bill Paxton and Linden Ashby are Morgan Earp.
And there we have it. Tombstone goes 2-1-1 as Wyatt Earp falls short at 1-2-1.
Give me Kurt Russell as Wyatt, Dennis Quaid as Doc, Sam Elliott as Virgil and either Bill Paxton or Linden Ashby as Morgan. Tune in next time as we take a look at the villains, Curly Bill, Ike Clanton, Johnny Ringo and so many more.