After the departure of screenwriter Kevin Jarre on the director's chair, Kurt Russell, advised by Sylvester Stallone, hired George Pan Cosmatos, a veteran filmmaker well-known in the 80's for ghost-direct two of Sly's most famous flicks: "Rambo - First Blood - Part II" ('85) & "Cobra" ('86).
"Tombstone" was since its conception a "dream come true" project for Russell, an avid western fan, the son of one of the most prominent character actors of the genre, Bing Russell and even named his own son with Goldie Hawn, Wyatt. He took the helm of the entire production with Cosmatos standing only as an advisor and taking care of the look and authenticity of this period piece.
In terms of production values, "Tombstone" scores high in the art department, set design, costumes, locations (in and outdoors) and cinematography. It looks and feels like the Old West, but unfortunately, the trimmed screenplay and the scenes that were left out in the cutting room floor turned the movie a bit more generic, disjointed and the previous envisioned epic film about the life of Wyatt Earp was turned into an action film for the less demanding audiences.
Some sub-plots went nowhere (more evident in the Jason Priestley's character, what was his purpose in the movie anyway?) and several scenes happened without proper explanation (suddenly the Curly Bill and Ringo's gang wear badges; who shot Billy Zane?; Michael Rooker's change of side seemed contrived) and in the last half a hour the movie looks like it was in a urge to finish with some quick editing thrown in and the result is a bit messy.
It's a shame because the all-star cast is outstanding: Kurt Russell plays the legendary Wyatt Earp with conviction and adequate stubbornness, but he's upstaged by the brilliant turns of Val Kilmer as the lunger Doc Holliday, in one of his best performances to date; the criminally underrated Powers Boothe as Curly Bill Brocius and especially Michael Biehn, who delivers the best performance in the film, as the cold-blooded killer, but educated man, Johnny Ringo. His blinkless eyes & facial expressions devoid of any humanity and on-screen vileness presence made his ruthless character one of the most memorable villains of the 90's.
Manly, rugged and moustache favorite, Sam Elliott as the elder brother, Virgil Earp and the always watchable, Bill Paxton as Morgan Earp were both ok, but their roles needed to be expanded. Stephen Lang stole all of his scenes as the nasty drunk, Ike Clanton and Jon Tenney provides a smooth & slick Marshall Behan, an ambiguous character which reminds a bit of Jeff Goldblum's in "Silverado".
The rest of the cast were given almost nothing to do, except standing here and there and recite a few lines, a waste of Joana Pacula, Billy Zane, Michael Rooker, Thomas Haden Church, Terry O'Quinn, Harry Carey Jr. and even the screen legend, Mr. Charlton Heston in a thankless role. Robert Mitchum as the narrator had a way noticeable voice for fans of him and his old westerns. Dana Delany as Wyatt's love interest, well... she may be adequate as a television actress. but she's not a leading lady material for a movie like this, and even if she didn't ruined her character, she wasn't impressive either...
Besides the screenplay & editing problems, "Tombstone" have a couple of great and virtuously staged scenes, like the long walk and consequent gunfight at the O.K. Curral and the earlier confrontation between Biehn's Johnny Ringo and Kilmer's Doc Holliday in the Saloon, which are a joy to watch and because of that, the movie got its merit, but for a long, epic and more insightful view on Wyatt Earp's life, please go watch the Lawrence Kasdan's "Wyatt Earp" ('94) starring Kevin Costner as Earp and an almost unrecognizable / skinny, Dennis Quaid as Doc Holliday. It may be too long and boring for less demanding fans, but it's a much better written and directed film, and even if it flopped when it was released, it stands today as the definitive Wyatt Earp's biopic. Fans of "Dances with Wolves" or "Open Range" (both with Costner directing and acting in it) will love the film.