Kurt Russell is the preeminent example of gruff, masculine swagger, injecting his performances with a vigorous presence no matter the role. Considering all of his muscly, mustachioed charms, it's a wonder that he hasn't been in more Westerns. That could be simply because films about the frontier aren't quite as common now as they used to be, but the actor takes his choice of roles in the genre seriously. Both "Tombstone" and 2015's "Bone Tomahawk" appealed to Russell, not because of their brutal action, but because of their dialogue, both refreshing to him in their own unique ways.
To be fair, Westerns have inspired Russell's roles, even if the films themselves weren't strictly in the Western genre. There's no mistaking that Snake Plissken in "Escape from New York" is at least partly an impression of Clint Eastwood's The Man with No Name, and Russell's role as Jack Burton in "Big Trouble in Little China" feels like a John Wayne parody. Still, Russell was well into his career before landing the role of Wyatt Earp in "Tombstone," released in 1993. The production was a hectic one, initially installing screenwriter Kevin Jarre in the director's chair before replacing him with George P. Cosmotos. Russell helped modify the script and, according to some on set like co-star Val Kilmer, took up a bulk of directing duties to see the project to completion.
Talking Like Tomahawk
Kevin Jarre based "Tombstone" on historical events and real people, even if, in true Western tradition, they were exaggerated for the sake of storytelling. In contrast, the premise of "Bone Tomahawk" is ripped straight out of a pulp magazine (including some controversial themes that date back to that era), combining Western elements with horror and "weird fiction." Russell points out, however, that the film's dialogue sounds remarkably natural, explaining that a movie about cannibalistic cave-dwelling mutants ironically portrays less of an exaggerated take on late nineteenth-century speech patterns than a classic John Wayne Western:
"I love 'The Searchers.' I think it's a cool movie. But the dialogue style? No way. It can't compare to 'Bone Tomahawk' or something like 'Tombstone.' This is much more of that true flavor. This makes you feel that this could actually be some weird little town in 1897 that is just out there where nobody knows where everything really is. The people talked this way. I believe that. I don't think this is a Hollywood western dialogue movie. This has a style to it. It lends itself much more to the credibility of reality than almost all westerns. It doesn't have a modern day sound to it."
Although the plot of "Tombstone" is much more grounded in reality, Russell seemed attracted to the way both films used their dialogue to humanize their characters. Westerns are known for mythologizing historical figures, but "Tombstone" and "Bone Tomahawk" brings the Western down to sandy earth, even if they both still embrace extravagance in the end. The former aims for an intimate portrayal of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, the latter wants its heroes to feel like ordinary men before the creatures come for their meat.
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