Faint hearts at the OK Corral: 'Wyatt Earp' - which may turn out to be the costliest flop of all - reeks of compromise

THE LEGEND of Wyatt Earp (15) is the legend of America. The country, like the man, started fresh and idealistic, before being brutalised by violence, which it turned out to have a talent for. Lawrence Kasdan's new three-hour version of the story makes its intentions plain from the start: to re-write Earp as epic, as a thunderous parable of America, and to present a more ambivalent Wyatt. For the first half-hour of the film, when Wyatt is a 15- year-old (played by Ian Bohen, the only time it's not Kevin Costner), growing up in the cornfields of 1863 Iowa, it works well. Never mind that every line of Gene Hackman, as Wyatt's father, Nicholas Earp, has

a thumping sententiousness: 'Remember this, all of you, nothing counts so much as blood. The rest are just strangers.' The lines are as much signposts for the audience as for Nicholas's growing sons.

We certainly need some, because the rest of the film is as parched - of ideas and characterisation - as the Arizona desert around Tombstone, where Wyatt becomes deputy in 1879. In the vast terrain of the film, the characters are as well- defined as specks on a horizon. Hackman has his opening salvo and returns once to save Wyatt from being hanged, never to be seen again. When Wyatt's brother Morgan is killed, 160 minutes into the film, we watch his expiring body as if it were a stranger's. It is. Isabella Rossellini plays a whore known as Big Nose Kate. She doesn't explain why she got the name or anything else.

The heart of the film is Kevin Costner's Wyatt, ageing from 21 (when skilful lighting more or less covers his wrinkles) to a brief, grey-haired coda. But it is a heart that beats, at best, faintly. The film is structured around Wyatt's development, in three acts: from rascally innocence, befouled by personal tragedy and the wickedness of the world; to apprentice lawman, finding his toughness and skill; to the unrepentant bruiser who must have the gunfight at the OK Corral. The problem is that these developments are sketched rather than explored. Kasdan, who co- wrote the film with Dan Gordon, relies on a lazy cinematic shorthand - close-ups, for instance, of Wyatt recoiling at his instinctive viciousness.

This is supposed to be a harsher Wyatt than we've seen, so we have a few smouldering looks, the odd tough line, and a perfunctory trial for the shootings at the OK Corral. The scenes are stilted and poorly shaped - the trial slips by - and nothing links up, betraying the film's origins as a projected mini-series. As Wyatt, Kevin Costner, his face growing fleshily into a bland middle age, is flabbily imprecise, no match for lean Henry Fonda, who played the part in John Ford's My Darling Clementine, a rake-thin figure of overweening piety.

By tradition every Wyatt Earp film is stolen by Doc Holliday, the devil-may-care gambler beside Wyatt's steady law enforcer. Dennis Quaid's Doc is no exception, with some choice sardonic blasts. He comes closest to the consumptive original of the character, having shed 43 pounds to leave his face as hard and wrinkled as a walnut. But even his performance seems skimped and stagey, less of a

gas than Val Kilmer's sharp- shooting maniac in Tombstone and less intriguing than Victor Mature's broody sensualist in My Darling Clementine.

One area in which the film does score is the gunfight at the OK Corral, which is carefully built up to, and then short and brutal, no more than a few seconds. As the black-clad Earp brothers march to the fray, like convening undertakers, Kasdan has a camera at every angle. The camera shots match the gun shots. Elsewhere Owen Roizman's photography captures the heat and expanse of the West, especially in the dusty, bleached, slightly overexposed exteriors, as well as the shifting locales of different desert towns, from the rich, burnished colours of Tombstone to the sandiness of Wichita. We always know where we are, even if we don't much care what's happening.

Like all movie disasters, Wyatt Earp - which may turn out to be the costliest flop of all time - reeks of compromise. Earp's murderousness is casuistically justified, to preserve Costner's gleam. Ideas about family, order, civilisation and expansion are taken up and then dropped in the dust. At times it is hard to believe Kasdan's heart was in it. You would expect extras to be better directed in a school play. And in this so-called revisionist reading, the women are so flimsily characterised as to make the twinkling damsels of John Ford and John Sturges seem fully- fledged heroines. It is all a huge folly, barely sustaining interest in the later stages. 'That's what life is all about,' intones Earp Snr to his son: 'Loss.' Warner Brothers, Costner and Kasdan are learning the facts of life right now.

In no other field do movies spout such awesome gobbledegook as in their portrayal of mental illness and its treatment. Madness is either shorthand for vulnerability and sensitivity, a romantic device, or mere wackiness. Psychiatrists are more often than not sinister - tamperers with the mind. This week's Mr Jones (15) and Color of Night (18) contain all the ingredients of the genre. Mr Jones is the better film because of a winning Richard Gere as the manic-depressive hero, who, typically, has a deep intuitive gift with people and unfulfilled musical talent (sensitive and arty). When Lena Olin, his shrink, tells him, 'You're a remarkable man,' we almost believe her. Gere, whose Buddhism now gives him an otherworldly aura, is good at manic highs, beaming agitatedly, and walking on ledges threatening to fly. He is a spiritual cousin to Jeff Bridges in Fearless, and the film, before what feels like a studio-imposed ending, is interesting as another exploration of a life at odds with the mundane.

In Color of Night Bruce Willis plays a psychiatrist ('PhD, New York') traumatised by a woman patient's committing suicide after he'd spoken harshly to her. She ends up in a pool of blood on the pavement, leaving him unable to see the colour red (something to do with the denial of emotion). He goes to Los Angeles, takes over the leadership of a therapy group from a murdered friend, and has an affair with Jane March (the waif from The Lover) which involves a lot of baths together and shots of Willis's limp penis. Richard (The Stuntman) Rush has clearly made a comedy- thriller, but it can be hard telling which bit is which. There's a good sense of the oppressiveness of LA, and many of Willis's patients, all of whom are suspects, are entertainingly drawn, in a cruel, exploitative way.

Senility, not madness, is the affliction in the daringly staid Wrestling Ernest Hemingway (12), in which Robert Duvall, a pernickety Cuban pensioner, and Richard Harris, a belligerent Irish old goat, play a pair of codgers, maundering the days away with quarrels and hopeless romantic fantasies of past and future conquests. There is much to enjoy for lovers of precision acting, but it may help if you're over 70.

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
    World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

    Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

    The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
    Why the league system no longer measures up

    League system no longer measures up

    Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
    Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

    Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

    Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
    Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness