Early in this Western, the patriarch of a tightly knit Midwest family tells his offspring, "Nothing counts as much as blood, the rest are strangers."

This formative myth takes seed in the heart and mind of Wyatt Earp, and it will bring him both bane and blessing. Writer and director Lawrence Kasdan's spellbinding sagebrush saga about this legendary figure unspools at a leisurely pace. It takes into its ample embrace the love and the hate, the altruism and the greed, the friendship and the feuding in the life and the legend of Wyatt Earp.

Kevin Costner is perfectly cast in the lead role of the lawman whose rigorous sense of right and wrong makes him one of the most famous men in the Wild West. The early death of his beloved pregnant wife casts a dark shadow over Wyatt Earp and pushes him toward the extremes which will animate him for the rest of his days. His grim view of human nature is tested in the tough towns of Wichita, Dodge City, and Tombstone.

Wyatt's earnest solidarity with his brothers, who worked with him, is a source of satisfaction for them, but it results in anger and frustration for their wives, who constantly feel shut out. This dimension of the film works well, along with the portrait of Wyatt's deep and lasting friendship with the notorious gunman and gambler Doc Holiday, played with great gusto by Dennis Quaid.

By the time the Earps reach Tombstone, they are less interested in maintaining the law than in making a fortune. Their dreams of success are shattered by a feud with the Clanton brothers. The shootout at the O.K. Corral and Wyatt's vengeance for the murder of his brother show the primal potency of violence.

As a buffalo hunter, a gambler, a lawman, and an entrepreneur, Wyatt Earp was a resourceful frontiersman. Kasdan's incisive portrait of his life captures and conveys the warring tendencies of the Wild West which to this day continue to tarnish the American dream.