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In 1880, four men travel together to the city of Silverado. They come across with many dangers before they finally engage the "bad guys" and bring peace and equality back to the city. Written by
Chris Makrozahopoulos <firstname.lastname@example.org>
By the mid-eighties received opinion in the movie industry was that the Western was dead and buried. Although opinions differed as to the precise cause of death, it was generally agreed that the final nail in the coffin was the failure of Michael Cimino's massive "Heaven's Gate".
Two men dared to defy received opinion; Clint Eastwood and Lawrence Kasdan.
That Eastwood should stand out against the tide was perhaps unsurprising; he had after all, both starred in and directed some iconic Westerns during the genre's last hurrah in the late sixties and early seventies. That Kasdan should have done so is more of a surprise. In 1985 he was a rising young director who had already made two successful films, the steamy neo-noir thriller "Body Heat" and "The Big Chill", a psychological drama about a group of sixties radicals trying to cope with the more conservative climate of the eighties. It was therefore perhaps a surprise that he should choose a traditional Western as his third film.
The film tells the story of four cowboys- Emmett, Paden, Jake (Emmett's brother) and Mal- who travel to the town of Silverado, where they help free the town from the grip of a ruthless rancher and his corrupt sheriff. Anyone familiar with the Western genre will realise that that is not exactly an original plot- it goes back at least as far as something like "Dodge City" from the late thirties, and probably much further- but in fact the storyline is more complex than that brief summary would suggest, with each of the four being given a back-story. All four have good reason to want revenge against the rancher, McKendrick.
In the sixties and early seventies there had been a trend towards "revisionist" Westerns, films like Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch" or Altman's "McCabe and Mrs Miller", which reacted against traditional portrayals of the Old West and tried to deglamorise it or debunk its mythology. Like all revolutions, however, this one gave rise to a counter-revolution, in this case films which quite defiantly celebrated the heroic Legend of the West. Most of John Wayne's later Westerns, such as "True Grit" or "The Cowboys" can be seen as anti-revisionist in this sense, and "Silverado" is another example. Kasdan was setting out to celebrate, not call into question, traditional ideas of the West; his is a West where the heroes are heroic, the villains villainous and the men in the metaphorical white hats always come out on top.
Most of the cast play their parts well, including the two Kevins, Costner and Kline, as the brothers Paden and Jake, Brian Dennehy as the villainous sheriff and Danny Glover as the black cowboy Mal. (The presence of a black cowboy is one of the few things to set the film apart from old-time Westerns, which were normally made on the mistaken assumption that there were no African-Americans living west of the Mississippi). Scott Glenn, however, is rather dull as Emmett, and former Python John Cleese is horribly miscast as another sheriff, whom he plays as an upper-class Englishman. This is not necessarily inaccurate- doubtless there were English immigrants in the West- but Cleese's style of acting has always been more suited to comedy than to serious drama.
The main problem with the film is that Kasdan does not really succeed in bringing anything new to the Western genre in the way in which one of his stars, Kevin Costner, was to succeed in doing with "Dances with Wolves" a few years later- or indeed as he himself was to do in his next Western, "Wyatt Earp", which also starred Costner. The other well-known Western from this period, Eastwood's "Pale Rider" is not particularly original either; in many ways it is an unacknowledged remake of "Shane". It is, however, a handsome, well-made film with an iconic performance from Eastwood himself as the mysterious, possibly supernatural, Preacher.
"Pale Rider" may recycle one or two well-worn situations, but "Silverado" seems to be a compendium of nearly every stock cliché from the previous fifty years of making Westerns- the villainous rancher, the equally villainous lawman, the wagon train, the cattle stampede, the man wrongly accused of murder, the man seeking revenge for the murder of his father, the final climactic shoot-out in the main street of the town. Only the cavalry and the Indians are missing. Twelve years earlier Mel Brooks had done this sort of thing for laughs in "Blazing Saddles"; Kasdan seems to be expecting us to take it seriously. He may have been hoping to reverse the decline of the Western, but unfortunately "Silverado" is a film which unconsciously reveals one of the reasons for that decline, namely that so many Westerns had been made that it became difficult to say anything about the West that had not already been said. Kasdan's next film, "The Accidental Tourist", was to be much better. 5/10
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