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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Wild Bill (1995) (Blu-ray)
Wild Bill (1995) (Blu-ray)
Twilight Time // R // October 17, 2017 // Region Free
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Twilighttimemovies]
Review by Tyler Foster | posted December 12, 2017 | E-mail the Author
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As Twilight Time has begun to share market space with other labels vying for similar titles (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Arrow Video), their selections have inched a bit toward the present day. Recent releases have included a few head-scratchers (8 Heads in a Duffel Bag, for example -- no pun intended), but 1995's Wild Bill, a seemingly forgotten western by action legend Walter Hill, feels like a better fit for the label. Covering some of the same territory that HBO's "Deadwood" would enter years later, this story about aging gunman "Wild Bill" Hickok (Jeff Bridges) is fascinatingly introspective for a western, as the old gunfighter actually comes to regret some of his more rambunctious days.

After a montage of Bill's roughhousing and quick-draw philosophy that eventually sours, Bill arrives in the town of Deadwood, recently erected after a nearby gold rush. With his wise friend Charley Prince (John Hurt) in tow, he reconnects with a few locals, including California Joe (James Gammon) and Calamity Jane (Ellen Barkin), before discovering he has a new enemy: young Jack McCall (David Arquette). Jack is bitter at Bill over Bill's treatment of his late mother, Susannah Moore (Diane Lane), including the fact that Bill eventually killed Susannah's subsequent lover in a gunfight. Most of the town doesn't take Jack very seriously -- he's a dorky kid facing off against one of the most legendary gunfighters in the West -- but Bill himself does. Saddled with the knowledge that his eyes are fading thanks to glaucoma and struggling with guilt over some of his more impetuous choices, Bill spends his time in a Chinese drug den, having flashbacks to key moments in his life, including the details of his relationship with Susannah.

For a filmmaker like Walter Hill, who made his name on movies like The Warriors and 48 Hrs., "introspective" is not necessarily the first approach that comes to mind, but it's clear that Hill saw something unique in his source material, a 1978 play by Thomas Babe called Fathers and Sons, and a 1986 novel called Deadwood. Hill's screenplay offers up the action staples of the genre right at the beginning, only to quickly undercut them as the actions of a reckless and angry man who will quickly find himself lonely and surrounded by enemies. Although Bill remains a bit of a showboat and has no reservations about blasting someone down if they leave him no choice (including a wheelchair-bound rival played by Bruce Dern), Bill knows deep down what the glaucoma will do to him, and quietly retreats inward, taking stock of his past.

In painting a surprisingly emotional portrait of Hickok, Hill has a perfect collaborator in Jeff Bridges, whose ability to slide back and forth over the line between edgy grump (an even meaner and more vicious persona than his Rooster Cogburn) and wryly amusing crank is especially useful here. Although Hill made comments suggesting he and Bridges had distinctly different working methods, Hill gets a remarkably strong performance from Bridges that has impressive emotional impact even when Bill is simply looking off into space. There is such a sadness to Bridges' performance as Bill, such a quiet and emotionally rich feeling of regret, which stands out for the genre. Even a film like Unforgiven is more about weariness than sadness, but Hill and Bridges evoke a certain heart-wrenching sorrow that is both unique and compelling.

Some of the elements around Bridges are more frustrating. Arquette is fitting for his role as a nervous kid, but still feels outclassed among the ensemble. Barkin shares some good quiet moment with Bridges, with Jane searching for a deeper connection with Bill that Bill refuses to return, but her bigger moments feel awkward. It's hard to tell whether or not it's Barkin's performance or the way the character is written, but in either case, much of her role is over-the-top in a way that doesn't quite match the rest of the movie. Hill also makes the visually ugly choice to shoot Bill's drug-induced flashbacks on blown-out black-and-white standard-definition video -- probably a decision that seemed better before the age of Blu-ray and HD television sets. The film's ending is also somewhat abrupt, with Hill making what must be an intentional choice to obscure Bill from the audience.

The Blu-ray
Wild Bill's original theatrical poster art isn't particularly striking -- a shot of the title character, eyes hidden beneath the brim of his hat -- but it's been recreated on Twilight Time's Blu-ray cover intact, with the rest of the design following their usual template. The one-disc release comes in a transparent, non-eco Viva Elite Blu-ray case, and there is a booklet inside the case featuring liner notes by Julie Kirgo.

The Video and Audio
For the most part, the 1.85:1 1080p AVC transfer that Twilight Time has received looks very good. Grain is pleasingly refined, colors appear more or less accurate, fine detail is impressive, and the picture does not show any real signs of age. It doesn't appear to be a brand new transfer, but it's also in excellent shape for what it is. However, while it's not technically an issue with the disc, it should be noted that large chunks of Wild Bill appear to have been shot on standard definition videotape, in order to give Bill's flashback sequences a unique look. These sequences are intentionally blown out, extremely soft, and very ugly to look at. In 1995, this probably seemed like an unremarkable artistic choice, but in 2017, it has not aged well. I won't hold it against the overall grade of the transfer because it's intentional, but it feels like it deserves to be mentioned. Sound is a solid DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that does a good job with the movie's various gunfights, barroom brawls, and town square showdowns, providing plenty of directionality and packing a nice crackling punch. Dialogue is nicely balanced and music sound vibrant. A DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is also included, as are English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing.

The Extras
Other than the liner notes, Wild Bill is barebones by Twilight Time standards -- just their usual isolated score track in DTS-HD MA 2.0, and the film's original theatrical trailer. There is also a menu-based catalog of other Twilight Time releases.

Wild Bill features a certain amount of narration by Hurt's character, whose gravelly voice creates an instant gravitas. It's a fitting effect for the film -- full of crags and crevices, yet evoking a certain unexpected poetry. Wild Bill is an odd film, but an effective one, diving into the memories of an infamous gunfighter with an unusual sincerity, brought to life by a strong script by director Walter Hill and an impressive performance by Jeff Bridges. Recommended.

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