In the old west, a misfit group of cowpokes – sturdy sharpshooter Emmett, his wayward younger brother Jake, gambler Paden and vengeful Mal looking for payback after his pa’s murder— come together to right the wrongs that exist in the new town of Silverado.
With his scripts for The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders Of The Lost Ark and his directorial debut Body Heat, Lawrence Kasdan displayed a breathless skill at revitalizing moribund genres and a genuine affection for movie lore. For his third movie as a director — his second, The Big Chill, practically invented its own genre, the yuppie nostalgia movie — he went back to that most traditional of American artforms, the western, and pulled off exactly the same trick. Sophisticated and knowing about the rules of the cowboy picture yet shot full of carefree innocence and exuberance, Silverado is the kind of picture that makes you want to play cowboys the moment it is over.
Everything about the movie feels fresh — even the title Silverado feels shiny and new. Rather than casting grizzled he-men in the hero roles, Kasdan’s selection of Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Danny Glover and, in his first western, Kevin Costner could almost be called The Mild Bunch, etching a group of characters as vulnerable as they are courageous. It’s a considered approach to casting that pays dividends; if you’ve only seen Costner’s later, more stately westerns, he is a revelation here, all easy charm and puppy dog enthusiasm. Beyond the lead foursome, Kasdan’s cast has strength in-depth, filled out by great character actors like Dennehy (a boo-hiss villain), Goldblum (a tricksy gambler) and Arquette (a pioneer who strikes up a romantic sub-plot with Emmett — much of it was left on the cutting room floor.)
Whereas many of the westerns from the ‘70s try a revisionist take on the genre, Silverado offers a wholehearted embracing of western traditions. This is a film unembarrased to see the good guys get caught in a box canyon, have its heroes bound by honour, to base a whole set-piece around a prison break and to end with a brilliantly staged shoot out on dusty streets. But it also provides some memorable tweaks to the formula; John Cleese as a unreservedly British sheriff, Linda Hunt as a formidable if diminutive barkeep. Knitted together by Bruce Broughton’s rousing Oscar nominated score, full of nifty action licks, Silverado has all the energy of riding off with the wind in your hair on a brand new adventure. Why it failed to catch fire at the box office is a damn disgrace.
Engrossing western which inspired a huge genre revivial.
Reviewed by Ian Freer