There are two main film versions based on the life of infamous outlaw Wyatt Earp: a serious, sombre one with Kevin Costner (and a whole lot of others), and a rolkicking circus sideshow starring Kurt Russell, bedazzled with a jaw dropping supporting cast that doesn’t quit. Both films are great, but if you held a six shooter to my head and demanded a preference, I’d have to give Tombstone the edge. It’s just too much fun, one wild screamer from start to finish, filled with swashbuckling deeds, evil outlaws and bawdy gunfights galore. It should have been called It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World In The Wild West. Kurt Russell is in mustache mode again here, but looks younger and leaner than last year’s western double feature his mutton chops starred in. Along with his brothers Virgil (Sam Elliott) and Norman (Bill Paxton) he arrives in Tombstone with a life of law enforcement in his dust and designs on retirement and relaxation. He gets pretty much the opposite though, when every lowlife bandit and villain in the area comes crawling out of the woodwork to give him trouble. Michael Biehn is the worst of them as crazy eyed Johnny Ringo, a deadly smart and ruthless killer, and Powers Boothe hams it up terrifically as drunken scoundrel Curly Bill Brocius. They are the two main causes of grief for the Earps, backed up by all sorts of goons including Michael Rooker, Billy Bob Thornton and a petulant Stephen Lang as Ike Clanton. Russell is joined by an off the wall Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday, the wheezy southern prince with a silver tongue that’s constantly fuelled by booze. He gives the best work of the film, and it’s fascinating to compare it to its counterpart, Dennis Quaid’s turn in the other version. Theres also great work from Billy Zane, Dana Delaney, Thomas Haden Church, Paula Malcomson, Tomas Arana, Johanna Pacula, Paul Ben Victor, Robert John Burke, John Corbett, Terry O Quinn, Robert Mitcham and even Charlton Heston good lawd what a cast. The standoffs, both verbal and physical, are a thing of beauty and the reason we go to the movies. Of all the westerns out there, this has just got to be the most fun. It’s constantly alive, there’s always something going on, a cheeky glint in its eye and a vitality in every corner of every frame, like a kid that won’t sit still. Russell is a champ as Earp, a no nonsense killer, plain and simple, but a man of both style and charisma, two weapons that are equally as important as his side arms. Kilmer gets all the best lines and goes to town with his portrayal, creating electric tension whenever he faces off with Biehn, who is equally mesmerizing in a more intense way. The three of them kill it, and along with the howling mess hall of a supporting cast, make this simply the liveliest western I’ve ever seen in the genre.
As soon as George Clooney built up enough clout and reputation in the industry to a point where he could make his own projects, he started to send some unique and refreshing stuff down an assembly line that needed some shaking up. Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind is such a curiosity, but it’s so specific and idiosyncratic that I can barely say what makes it so special. I can go over the plot, performances etc. and give the reader a general idea, but to get it you had to be there. I suppose that’s the case with all movies, this one just sort of has its own frequency that you have to be tuned into. For a square jawed leading man, Clooney sure busted the box open with this directorial effort, as well as a few others, all just as distinctive. A screenplay by Mr. Abstract himself, Charlie Kaufman, helps with making an impression as well. Sam Rockwell, who continues to prove himself as one of the best actors of his generation, plays Chuck Barris. Chuck was the brain child behind numerous gaudy television game shows in the 60’s, including the infamous ‘Dating Game’. Flippant creative output was his brand, but there was another side to him as well, a darker period in which he claimed to be recruited by the CIA to carry out cloak and dagger assassinations. Whether or not this was ever a factual part of his life is murky, but he certainly believes it to be true and has written extensively about it in the novel which Clooney based this on. The film deftly intersperses his life at the television network and the genesis of the programs with his training and eventual missions for the Company. It’s an odd contrast, but when you’re treated with Clooney’s dutiful storytelling and an extremely committed turn from Rockwell, it’s hard not to be drawn into it. Not to mention the supporting cast. Julia Roberts is cast against type as a lethal, sociopathic femme fatale who crosses paths with Barris more than a few times. Rutger Hauer mopes about as a loveable alcoholic operative who covers Barris’s back on a few assignments. Drew Barrymore spruces things up as a ditzy love interest, Michael Cera plays Chuck as a young’in, Clooney himself underplays his CIA handler, letting an epic moustache do the talking, and there’s cameos from Maggie Gyllenhaal, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon. At one point the film stops dead in its tracks for the funniest performance which hijacks a scene briefly, in the form of Robert John Burke as a maniacal censorship board hyena. Burke pulls the ripcord and delivers roughly 40 seconds of pure comedic genius that I could watch on loop, and is the only moment of its kind in the film. You’d think it’d offset tone, but in a film this organic and quirky, it simply serves as a garnish of hilarity. The whole thing has a Soderbergh feel to it (perhaps due to Clooney), a sharp, crystalline precision to the burnished cinematography from Newton Thomas Sigel, who previously wowed us with similar work on Blood & Wine, The Usual Suspects and Gregory Hoblit’s Fallen. His lens captures the melancholy accompanying Barris’s very strange path path in life with moodily lit frames, and pauses for the brilliant moments of absurd black comedy which seem to follow him around like the spooks he was always running from. A film with dual aspects that never tries to prove or disprove Chuck’s claims, but loyally tells the story the way he told it, guided by Clooney all the while. A little stroke of genius.