Wild Bill succeeds as a character study of a man whose idiosyncratic code of justice eventually catches up with him. Bridges’ performance is a masterstroke of squinty-eyed bitterness, and he gets colorful support from Ellen Barkin (as kitten with a whip Calamity Jane) and John Hurt (as a dissipated British dandy).
Hill evokes the great westerns of the past—in particular "Shane" and "My Darling Clementine"— but his approach is essentially postmodern. Though Hickok is a hero from another century, his plight is thoroughly contemporary.
The product is an ambitious but awkward movie that jumps forward and back in time; voice-over narration fails to smooth over the choppiness. Nevertheless, it's studded with haunting, melancholy sequences, and Jeff Bridges is one of a handful of contemporary stars with enough stature and substance to carry off Hickock's mythic resonance.
The elements never quite combine into a cohesive compound, and a lot of the dialogue - particularly Calamity Jane's - might have worked on the page, or even on the stage, but has a phony theatricality when uttered by people with cameras in their faces. [01 Dec 1995, p.3E]
In the early going "Wild Bill" looks interesting -- an audacious wallow in violence and Western legend. Then 20 minutes in, writer-director Walter Hill puts his cards on the table. It's a dead man's hand.