In a future where the polar ice-caps have melted and Earth is almost entirely submerged, a mutated mariner fights starvation and outlaw "smokers," and reluctantly helps a woman and a young girl try to find dry land.
Wyatt grows up a young man who loves the law. When his wife dies early in their marriage he goes off the rails and becomes a drunk and a thief. When he is offered a chance at redemption he takes it and becomes a deputy. His legend spreads and he is offered the chance to be the deputy for Dodge City. He has great success but is removed from the job for being too brutal. When his replacement is killed as the law falls away in Dodge, Wyatt returns before moving on to Tombstone but finds his initial run-in with the Clantonhas left harbouring resentments.
When I saw this in the cinema, it was hassled by the fact that another, more multiplex-friendly version of the story had just been released shortly before. Viewed separately years later it fares better without the comparison to Tombstone, which is, in fairness, more of a fun bang-bang affair, although now it struggles because Costner's reputation is not even at the level it was when this film was released. The plot is good and is supposedly a true telling of the legend, although the film is careful to pepper the running time with hints that stories get changed with the telling.
The very honest and respectful telling of the story means that it gets told in a very deliberate and careful manner. This means on one hand that we get a good picture over Wyatt's life as opposed to the events in Tombstone, however it also means that the film itself is a little dull and overlong. It is overly deliberate and doesn't flow as well as it should - flowing more like syrup than water at times. Where some three-hour running times fly by, here it does feel like at least three hours - not always a good thing! The filling out of the characters doesn't always work either - I knew more about Wyatt but I didn't understand his character much more, also I was surprised that I was none the wiser about why he and Doc became friends considering how long was spent with them. A big failing of the film is that it assumes the status of an epic rather than earning the status. What I mean by this is that it tries too hard to be an epic - with constant sweeping music where it didn't need it. I still thing the film has an epic sweep to it, but it didn't need the cinematic tricks to achieve it; in fact, it could have down played it and let the sweep of the film do it for itself.
The cast is pretty good and also pretty deep. Costner may not be seen as a star anymore but that doesn't mean he can't act and can't hold the attention. He is a reasonable Wyatt but he suffers from being too deliberate and too shut off at times. I understand he needed to do it for the character but it contributes to the film feeling slow. The other brothers are played well by Madsen, Ashby and Andrews. Maybe it is because of Costner's drab Wyatt, but Quaid really lightens things up as Doc Holliday. His colourful character stands out easily against the old west types. The support cast is deep and includes faces such as Hackman, Fahey, Harmon, Pullman, Sizemore, Rossellini, Williams and O'Hara.
Overall this is a film that requires patience - if you prefer your films to contain action more than story then Tombstone may be more for you - but, for all it's failings, this is still a solid western and a good telling of the legend with more emphasis on background than action and fluidity.
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