Well, it's back to the west for Kevin Costner, and let me tell you, his epic character pieces of the '90s may have gradually gotten shorter, - if you're looking at the runtime of the director's cut of "Dances with Wolves" that is (Almost four hours; that better be the length I most remember) - but they're hardly getting any better. Granted, I still think that this film is really good, and think that "The Postman" is actually kind of decent, but the point is that none of these films are as good as "Dances with Wolves", even though most of them aren't as slow as the superior "Dances with Wolves", regardless of what the critics say. I don't know about y'all, but I think that this film is pretty entertaining, and don't really find "The Postman" necessarily boring, so maybe critics were spending the '90s giving Costner so much heat because they came to feel guilty for giving all of those best picture rewards to "Dances with Wolves", when it should have gone to "Goodfellas"... which I find much inferior to "Dances with Wolves". Wow, I must really be bugging the critical industry's anti-Costners right now, unless, of course, I'm giving myself too much credit, because in order to take offense about my opinion on this film, other people would have to, well, be jerks who are overly sensitive about other's opinions (*cough*like*cough*me*cough*), and would also have to have actually seen it. Kevin Costner, Dennis Quaid, Gene Hackman (Gene Hackman in a Western? No Kidding!), Michael Madsen, Catherine O'Hara, Tom Sizemore, Adam Baldwin and all sorts of other people spread throughout this $63 million epic, and people still didn't see it, so you can pretty much take it to the bank that this was the beginning of Costner's lapses in success, certainly more so than Costner could take something to the bank at the time. Hey, maybe this film was just undermarketed because the filmmakers didn't want you to know that Costner was in it, but either way, the point is that this film just couldn't catch a break, just because it's a little bit way too long. No, people, this film doesn't meander that much, or at least not as much as this opening paragraph, but as underrated as the final product is, Costner is the least of its worries, regardless of what the marketers, audience, Razzies and, I don't know, all of Costner's friends and relatives (He can't catch a break, in case you didn't get that) will tell you.
The story concept certainly doesn't hold a whole lot of potential for genuine uniqueness, but believe it or not, this film has the opportunity to make relatively refreshing turns as a western epic, and is kind of refreshing is some ways, yet on the whole, the final product succumbs to too many areas of formula, taking on conventions, perhaps even genericisms that plague plenty of aspects from story structure to score work, which is decent, but still kind of disappointing, considering that this is the talented James Newton Howard turning in a formulaic score, and one whose overwhelming heart exacerbates a certain other considerable issue: sentimentality. The film is never cheesy, but it slips into relatively sentimental spells more than I expected, and more than it should, corrupting dramatic resonance with subtlety issues that never come close to washing away effectiveness completely, but nonetheless cheese things up slightly. Kevin Costner may only have a starring and co-producing role in this film, but the final product feels kind of like an effort by Costner, as a filmmaker, in that it gets to be too ambitious to pay attention to obscuring conventionalism, as well as too ambitious to keep dramatic kick consistently comfortable, and while such overambition cannot shake the film's being ultimately rewarding, it messes with momentum that is messy enough because of something that isn't as bad as the critics say, but still stands. Pacing is generally pretty tight with this epic, but on too many occasions, that tightness slips up, not simply into slowness, but unevenness, which renders several periods to drag along rather reptitiously with excess material, and other, perhaps even more periods to feel tight to a fault, to where layers are not as fleshed out as they should be, thus resulting in such things as undercooked characterization and even major plot sections' coming off as rather expendable, due to their being kind of slapdashed into this heavily branched story. Unevenness settles a bit after a while, but the often inconsistent pacing hazes the focus of this layered, three-hour epic, until, after a while, focus issues devolve into aimlessness that sends the final product limping along on a repetitious formula that convolutes the flow of this promising dramatic study. It all comes down to an ending that isn't necessarily a cop-out, but is still kind of underwhelming, summarizing the focal issues that, like conventionalism and sentimentality, corrupt too many areas in the telling of this worthy tale, which may be executed into an ultimately rewarding film, but falls short of its full potential. Still, when the film picks up, as it often does, it perseveres, being undeniably quite flawed, but not as faulty as they say, and with enough strengths to compel, with plenty of engagement value and, of course, production value.
Like I said, the film pays only so much attention to fighting back the conventionalism that comes as little surprise, seeing as how we're dealing with something as formulaic as the western genre, so it's easy to expect there to be little effort behind the production and costume designs, and yet, when you get down to it, where production designer Ida Random and costume designer Colleen Atwood could have lazed out and restored the Old West in a minimal fashion, they go about as far out as they can in reviving the look of Wyatt Earp's time and various places of residence with tasteful and convincing intricacies that transport you to the time, and with a fair degree of handsomeness. Even more handsome than the look of this film's world is, of course, the look of the film itself, for although Owen Roizman tends to coast with simply average-looking cinematography, this is generally a mighty good-looking film for 1994, and still strikes to this day with its crisply well-defined lighting that makes the brightest images stunning, the darkest images ruggedly gritty and, well, just about every other type of image pretty attractive. Costing $63 million that it didn't come close to making back, this film had plenty of money to spend, and it put it to good use on fine production value and shooting equipment, so if nothing else is underappreciated about this film, it's its looking very good, but at the end of the day, the department that does the most in making the final product as engaging as it is is the very department that everyone is complaining about, and, to a moderate degree, justly so. Everyone's been going on and on about conventionalism, and sentimentality, and uneven pacing, and sure, those problems are her, not simply at times, but throughout the film, yet they're not as severe as they say, or at least not so severe that you forget the intrigue and possibilities behind the story of the late, great Wyatt Earp, who has been seen on film throughout the years, but never given the proper, factual epic of an extensive character piece that he deserves, so this film has plenty of potential to squander, yet it still fulfills the depths of its subject matter enough to compel, even when it comes to the script by Lawrence Kasdan and Dan Gordon that may be somewhat uneven, but offers colorful wit and enough well-rounded flesh-out to earn your investment in the final product as a rich, if a bit sentimentally overambitious drama. Needless to say, the heart of this epic is further sold by what is, in fact, done right in Kasdan's directorial storytelling, which may not be able to fully obscure the pacing issues in his and Gordon's written plotting structure, but holds an atmospheric pace that is generally genuinely rather tight, leaving the final product to feel as though it's flowing along at a reasonably comfortable click, anchored by lively entertainment value, broken up by dramatic moments that may be generally diluted by sentimentality, but reinforce compellingness more often than not. The film may limp along on paper, but what Kasdan does as director to color up what shortcomings there in the script's aimless structure entertain and compel time and again as compliments to the effectiveness of this character study, further sold by, of course, inspired portrayals of this film's driving characters by many a talented component to this star-heavy cast, for although the show-stealing Dennis Quaid is bound to almost take too much of your attention away from everyone else with the cool charm, transformative presence and subtly engrossing dramatic range that bypass acting material limitations to craft a truly excellent portrayal of Doc Holliday that is about as good as anyone's has ever been, there's no ignoring that most everyone has his or her has a time to shine, with Kevin Costner particularly standing out, maybe no nearly on the level of Quaid, but just enough to use charisma and subtle heart to give you a feel of gradual change and human depth within a character as layered as Wyatt Earp. Costner is a more worthy leading man than they say, and such a strong lead performance does a lot to get the film by, yet you cannot take the offscreen inspiration away from this effort, for although overambition behind the crafting of this film emphasize shortcomings, of which there are too many, considering the potential of this film, what is done right is done well enough for this film, in all of its three-hour aimlessness, to compel and reward the patient.
Overall, conventional areas slow momentum down a bit, and sentimentality cheeses certain dramatic notes up a bit, while uneven pacing sees bloated spots, hurried spots and the tainting of a layered structure with focus issues that lead to aimlessness too considerable for the film to come close to achieving its full potential, which is still realized just enough to create a rather underrated and rewarding final product, with fine production designs and cinematography, and an intriguing story that is powered enough by inspired writing, direction and acting for Lawrence Kasdan's "Wyatt Earp" to stand as a flawed, but generally compelling epic study on the richly layered life of a true legend of the Old West.
3/5 - Good