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Film Review - Wild Bill
It would seem like you couldn't swing a dead cat in the Old West without hitting a legend of some sort. The problem with the legends of the Old West is it's hard to determine what's the truth, and what's been embellished over the years.
Wild Bill Hickock is one such legend. Wild Bill was a gun slinger, lawman and buffalo hunter. What made Wild Bill a legend was his incredible accuracy with a gun. He could shoot a glass of whiskey off the top of a dog's head. During a shoot-out, people standing behind Wild Bill's foe wouldn't move away out of respect for Bill's abilities. Or so the story goes.
Wild Bill is a story told in flashback. Bill is dead in the first scene, and we relive highlights of his life through the remembrances of his friends. One of the main points Bill himself brings up is that his friends don't get the stories straight. All of them over-embellish how many he has killed under which circumstances. Clever disclaimer on the filmmaker's part: if anyone calls him on the carpet for being inaccurate, he can always blame Calamity Jane.
I don't know if Wild Bill is accurate or not. I do know I enjoyed the film. This newer Hollywood Western portrays people of legend as people. Cowboys in the past have always been these macho, stiff-upper-lip phoneys. Wild Bill portrays a relationship between Bill and Jane with regrets as well as tender moments, and even a moment of unbridled mutual horniness.
Bill is losing his sight. He's having to deal with this problem, and turns to an opium den to ease his pain. Through opium, Bill dreams resolutions to the nagging regrets of his life -- mainly the other woman he loved, then left, whose son now is out to kill him.
Wild Bill is shot better than most Western movies. During the opium dreams, high-contrast film, along with Dutch angles, are employed to give the dream its eerie feel. Superior lighting is demonstrated throughout Wild Bill. Clearly, this a first-rate film technically. For its story, Wild Bill well defines its characters and relies on them to pull us through this experience. Wild Bill does a good job of saying "Yes, this man was a legend, but don't inflate Bill too much. He was a man who lived by the gun, dies by the gun, and had friends who exaggerated."