Walter Hill’s astonishing, hallucinatory western was a box office disaster on its release in 1995. Tragically so, because this account of the life and death of James Butler Hickok, legendary army scout, sometimes lawman, gambler and gunfighter, is one of the best American movies of the ’90s?a film about myth and legend: history as half-truth, lies and exaggeration.
Brilliantly played by a bewhiskered, cantankerous Jeff Bridges, this Wild Bill is an elemental force, running out of time. In a series of tremendously violent flashbacks, Hill shows us Bill in his gunfighter pomp?ferocious, terrifyingly intransigent. However, by the time he gets to the teeming hell of Deadwood, where he will die, Bill’s weary of everything, especially what he’s become. He’s 39, going blind, lost in ominous opium dreams, waiting for someone to fill his boots with blood. The film’s last scenes assume a grim, desolate absurdity, the conclusion to a long-running joke provoking the kind of point-blank shoot-out Hill does better than anyone.