Stars: 2.7 of 5.
Running Time: 98 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Jeff Bridges (STARMAN, THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT, CUTTER'S WAY), Ellen Barkin (THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI, DOWN BY LAW), John Hurt (I, CLAUDIUS; THE HIT), Diane Lane (THE COTTON CLUB, RUMBLE FISH), Keith Carradine (NASHVILLE, SOUTHERN COMFORT), David Arquette (THE OUTSIDERS TV series, SCREAM), Christina Applegate (DON'T TELL MOM THE BABYSITTER'S DEAD, MARS ATTACKS!), James Remar (48 HRS., QUIET COOL), Bruce Dern (THE GREAT GATSBY, SILENT RUNNING). Based on the book DEADWOOD by Peter Dexter and the play by Thomas Babe.
Tag-line: "Take a walk on the wild side."
Best one-liner: "You ought to know better than to touch another man's hat."
Where to begin, WILD BILL? Let's start with the good. I'm a Walter Hill fan. I'm a fan of most of the talented, eclectic cast whose members include the commanding and mustachioed Jeff Bridges, the eloquent John Hurt, the soothingly intense Keith Carradine, the mysterious and sultry Diane Lane, and the lovably psychotic James Remar. There's fast and furious, well-choreographed gunfights which recall the quick-drawin', squinty-eyed triumphs of Sergio Leone.
There's a scene where Wild Bill shoots a shot glass off the back of a hapless pooch while he aims backwards, through a mirror.
There's Keith Carradine (who later played perhaps filmdom's finest Wild Bill on HBO's DEADWOOD) as Buffalo Bill in a zany scene showcasing Wild Bill's legendarily awful acting in the money-grubbing play 'SCOUTS OF THE PLAINS.'
There's a genius scene depicting a geriactric-style gunfight between a crippled Bruce Dern...
...and a smart-assed Wild Bill, who's had himself tied to a chair to make it a fair fight.
In fact, Dern practically steals the movie playing this wheelchair-bound, irascible, grizzled madman-
and it's a role that he's pretty much (BIG LOVE, MONSTER, THE ASTRONAUT FARMER) been playing ever since. (And to be fair, he was generally playing it before, too.)
We got John Hurt narrating and raising eyebrows and classin' up the joint
and even getting punched out by James Remar.
We got Remar bustin' in and and bellowing the rhetorical question, "A FIVE DOLLAR WHORE'S GONNA TELL ME ABOUT STREET TRASH?!" to a hooker played by...uh, Christina Applegate.
Wait, that must be a typo. Surely I meant to type 'Susan Tyrrell' or 'Candy Clark' or 'Grace Zabriskie'...but no such luck. It's not all peaches and cream, ladies and gentlemen. Christina Applegate is indeed in this movie, and though it pains me to say it, she's far from being the most absolutely, hair-raisingly loco element included in the film.
Now would probably be a good time to mention that WILD BILL is sort of structured like THE DOORS. We flash-forward and flash-back and wash out to events throughout Wild Bill's life, as if trapped in a interminable time warp, an ouroboros of violence and blood and dirt and whiskey. That's fine. It establishes the sense of violence that pervades Wild Bill's very being. But things start to get a little wonky as soon as we got drug trips and opium hallucinations and use of high-contrast black-and-white video art-lookin' sequences full of bizarre, Oliver Stone-style Native American mysticism
which, for all intents and purposes, are unwatchable until Diane Lane shows up, at which point they become only barely watchable.
Diane Lane: a real dish, even in high-contrast video-art-installation-style sequences.
All of this would be excusable if they were going the all-out arthouse route, but then we have pandering- I assume to the studio, but who knows– altering the historical record in a manner which can only be described as "thoroughly cockamamie." 'Colorado' Charlie Utter inexplicably becomes Charlie Prince (the John Hurt character). Jack McCall (Bill's assassin) is no longer a young, poker-luvin' douche who impulsively shot Bill in the back over a card game and a subsequent gesture of (quite possibly mocking) kindness. He's a pretty-boy (...played by David Arquette) avenging the honor of his mother, Susannah (Diane Lane), who has Bill at gunpoint about 3,000 times during the course of the movie but only acts on it during the finale.
Now, the historical McCall, most likely trying to save his own ass, claimed that Wild Bill had killed his brother and he was seeking revenge, but to tie it in with the Susannah Moore/Davis Tutt incident is not only kinda historically irresponsible, but it also works to the detriment of the story Hill is telling, unless he wanted the subject of his film to be a heavily fictionalized version of Jack McCall. Anyway, it doesn't really matter- the combining, editing, and altering of historical figures in cinema occurs with such frequency that it hardly bears ment–
I like Ellen Barkin. I really like Ellen Barkin. Nobody can say that I don't like Ellen Barkin. I guess what I mean to say is that she doesn't quite look the part.
Then again, I suppose that her depiction is something that Hollywood has always struggled with:
So, forget I said anything. Thank God, though, at least they didn't s–
...Well, let's end things on a positive note, shall we? Here's a clip I uploaded of James Remar, possibly worn down from multiple takes, giving Wild Bill's hat a hearty, dramatic thwack.