It's amazing that I have seen probably two dozen Westerns, but have missed out on some of the bigger ones. I don't think I've seen one with John Wayne, or Gary Cooper. I've seen Silverado, but not Heaven's Gate. There are big gaps in my knowledge of this genre, but I can abso-fing-lutely guarantee that Tombstone isn't one of those gaps.
In a movie full of strengths, Kilmer's work here stands out. His Doc has charm and grace and wit and, above all, a wisdom that matches his loyalty. The Earps are painted as a bunch of natural-born do-gooders, and so Holliday here serves as the guy with a real understanding of how the world works.
He's a screwup - because he's addicted to gambling and his smoking/drinking must play hell with his tuberculosis - but he's the kind of screwup that the audience loves to love.
In case you were cursed by the gods and haven't seen this picture before, Doc is depicted as this ultimate gunslinger. He's a badass shot who can twirl a gun like a virtuoso. Throughout, Wyatt Earp is presented as his personal equal, but the only person who has the same skill with a six shooter is Michael Biehn's character, Johnny Ringo.
Ringo exists as this evil alternative to Doc Holliday. Whereas Doc has a healthy friendship with some lawmen, Ringo is second fiddle to a gang that only murders people and steals from them. Holliday is a happy drunk, full of wit and intelligence. Johnny has a great education, but a heart full of hatred. Long before Michael Caine's Alfred described the Joker as a guy who wanted to "burn the world," Doc did the same for Johnny Ringo.
Throughout Tombstone, Doc and Johnny never actually get into a fight - it almost occurs, but something always keeps one out of the way. And, thus, - SPOILER ALERT - it is so beautifully-fitting that right near the end of the movie we finally have a confrontation wherein Earp knows that he must face the superior aim and speed of Ringo; he hugs his ailing tuberculotic friend and rides out, fully expecting to die. What follows next, then, is not just a fine moment in Mr. Kilmer's career, it's one of the finest moments I have ever seen in a Western. Enjoy: