Wild Bill (1995)

Genres - Western  |   Sub-Genres - Biopic [feature], Revisionist Western  |   Release Date - Dec 1, 1995 (USA)  |   Run Time - 98 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Karl Williams

This revisionist history of frontier legend Wild Bill Hickok is based on the book Deadwood by novelist Pete Dexter and the play +Fathers and Sons by Thomas Babe, as well as a variety of other historical sources, so the result, predictably, suffers from an anecdotal structure. Surprisingly, however, director Walter Hill's project also lacks insight into its subject, rendering the project even more disjointed and distancing. Jeff Bridges, normally the most reliable of actors, struggles in a role that's closer to the Biblical figure of Job than a saloon-loving sharpshooter (among the maladies suffered by Hickok are glaucoma, drug addiction, syphilis, and, perhaps understandably, loneliness). By heaping afflictions upon its hero, the story attempts to present Hickok as psychologically exhausted and ready for his early death, a notion to which the real-life man might have strongly objected prior to being shot in the back. The introduction of an English pal and narrator played by John Hurt is a major distraction, although to be fair, the film's splintered, episodic narrative quality may have demanded the addition of a Greek chorus device to explain the onscreen action. There is a great performance delivered by Ellen Barkin, who brings subtle shadings and hinted-at depth, neither of which seems to exist on the page, to her role as the supportive, long-suffering Calamity Jane. Wild Bill (1995) so completely lacks enlightenment about its hero, maybe the film should have been about her instead.