In the 1980′s, Lawrence Kasdan was a man who endeavored to bring to theatres the types of films he loved as a kid. In 1980 and 1983, Kasdan wrote the screen plays for The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Those films featured many of the trappings of classic science fiction serials, such as Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers and helped to flesh out George Lucas’ original vision for his Star Wars Trilogy. Kasdan’s work was so good on Empire, that Lucas hired him again when the time came to work on Lucasfilm’s next project, an emulation of the old republic serials of the 1930′s.
The result was a near perfect film, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Everything seemed to go right with Raiders and the film was a huge success. Much credit went to Kasdan’s screenplay, which filled the picture with a great deal of exuberance. The picture was such a success that it allowed Kasdan the opportunity to direct his first picture.
Kasdan showed another side of love for older film by remaking the classic Noir Double Indemnity. Body Heat, starring Kathleen Turner and William Hurt feels like a classic potboiler from the 1940′s where femme fatales could drive men crazy and make them do anything. Body Heat bristles with a fierce intensity and a controlling pace. Atmosphere in the film is incredible as no one actually ever says how hot it is, but you can feel it all around.
Kasdan was afforded the chance to have free reign after the success of his second directorial effort, The Big Chill. Kasdan decided he wanted to do a Western. Kasdan was a huge fan of classics of the genre like Shane and Stagecoach, and desperately wanted to do a picture with the type of brisk tone he had brought to Raiders. He would take inspiration from The Magnificent Seven and The Professionals to make a type film that the genre had not produced since the 1960′s.
Silverado Starring Kevin Kline and Scott Glenn. Directed by Lawrence Kasdan.
Kasdan’s Western begins in a small shack with low light. Scott Glenn’s Emmett sleeps soundly as gunshots ring out from the walls and rooftop. Emmett springs into action as he takes down his unknown assailants in heroic fashion. As the gunshots die down and Emmett becomes aware of his returned safety, he steps out the door of his confining cabin to reveal a panoramic view of the beautiful New Mexico landscape representing the very openness of the American West itself.
Landscapes change as Emmett rides through the desert and comes upon a man lying prone in his long johns. We learn the man’s name is Paden (Kevin Kline) who was recently bushwhacked by four men. The men took his clothes, money and gun, but more importantly to him they took his horse and hat. He explains how he had spent three years training that hat and no substitute would do.
Upon reaching a small town, Paden gets his first chance at some amount of revenge. In a tremendously comic scene, Paden sees one of the bandits that now has his horse. Paden races for the closest general store, where he buys the only gun he can afford. A rusty pistol, falling apart and barely holding in its ammunition becomes Paden’s instrument of righteousness. The horse thief spots the man still wearing only long johns and tries to ride him down, shooting along the way. Of course, in classic Western fashion, the man completely misses Paden as Kline’s character blows the evildoer away with one shot.
After clearing his name, and a long affectionate kiss with his horse, Paden runs into an old associate named Cobb (Brian Dennehy). Cobb simply states he is looking for men to run a job, and Paden declines, telling Cobb he wants to stay out of trouble. Paden decides instead to keep riding with Emmett to the town of Turley, where he is to meet up with a man he knows there. Once Emmett meets with the man, they are supposed to ride out to California together.
Upon arriving in Turley, Emmett and Paden realize that the man Emmett was supposed to meet, his brother Jake (Kevin Costner), is scheduled to be executed by hanging. Emmett laments having to bust his brother out of jail because he has just been released after a five year sentence following killing a man in self defense. Also upon getting to Turley the duo witness two important events in the plot’s development. One is the introduction of a wagon train of settlers going to the town of Silverado. The second event is a scuffle between the regulars of a local saloon and Malachi Johnson (Danny Glover). Glover’s character is innocent, but told to leave town by the town sheriff, Langston (John Cleese).
Making things worse for Emmett is the arrest of Paden as he guns down a man wearing his hat. Fortunately, Paden and Jake are able to rig up a scheme that busts them out of jail just as a posse forms to track them down. Jake, Emmett and Paden shoot their way out and the posse is stopped in its tracks by Mal Johnson, who displays his marksmanship with a Henry Rifle for the first time in the film. The foursome rides off to Silverado together as Emmett and his brother want to say goodbye to their sister before they ride off, Malachi wants to see his family who are living in the area and Paden has nothing better to do.
Along the way, the four take time to save the Wagon train of settlers from a band of outlaws that have left them stranded. After doing so, they meet Hannah, played by Rosanna Arquette, and escort the train the rest of the way to their destination. Once at Silverado, the four disperse to go their separate ways.
Emmett and Jake learn that the son of the man that Emmett had killed, Ethan McKendrick (Ray Baker), is now in league with the town’s new sheriff and is running the town from the shadows. Malachi’s family farm has also been overrun by McKendrick, who claims the land is rightfully his. Paden finds work at a local saloon, which happens to be owned by his former friend Cobb. Paden is shocked to learn that Cobb is actually the new sheriff in town and has surrounded himself with deputies loyal to him. All of these storylines converge as our four heroes combine forces to stop the bad guys. The last third of the movie consists of shootouts, stampedes, fistfights, saving a child, getting the girl and Paden and Cobb dueling in the middle of the street at High Noon.
is a masterpiece of popcorn entertainment. The film is packed with so many Western clichÃƒÂ©s as to make the viewer dizzy with excitement as the heroes jump onto moving horses and shoot down the villains. The film is the purest form of a white and black hat type of Western that died out in the 1950′s.
Kevin Kline is surprisingly good for his first big screen action role. Kline has his expected great comic timing, but what’s not expected is how solid he is in the action sequences. Kline holds up very well next to action veterans like Kevin Costner and Danny Glover. His duel in the street with Dennehy’s Cobb is an especially great moment. As Kline walks down the deserted street to meet up with Cobb, a church is directly behind him, representing civilization. He is dressed in an attire very similar to that of Gary Cooper in High Noon
. Cobb stands at the other end of the street, the wilderness behind him, representing the untamed West. The moment is absolute magic.
Scott Glenn is the stoic gunfighter of the bunch of heroes. What Glenn lacks in charisma, he makes up for in the action scenes. Apparently of all the actors, it was Glenn that trained the most in quick draw gun fighting. Glenn does not have the screen presence of some of the other heroes of the film, but all in all he is quite good.
Kevin Costner plays Jake differently from any role he has ever played. Costner’s Jake is a wild man, in love with himself and the horizon of better things coming. Wearing two guns, Jake is a trick shooter and a show off. This role is miles away from the Western heroes he played in Dances with Wolves
and Open Range
. Jake was actually kind of a thank you gift from director Lawrence Kasdan as Costner was actually cast in the director’s The Big Chill
, but all of his scenes were cut. In the end, it all worked out as Jake is a superior role to the small scenes Costner would have had in The Big Chill
and Costner makes the most out of the character.
Danny Glover has a very stirring character in Mal Johnson. Glover is defiant towards the racism that constantly surrounds him. Glover seems to be having a great time in the action scenes and brings gravity to the film in scenes where he loses his father and fights to save his sister. Mal is very similar to Glover’s signature role as Sergeant Murtaugh in the Lethal Weapon
films, but does not stick out as a character that is too modern. Mal, just as all the heroes, is a timeless character, fighting injustice of all forms.
Villains in the film are all quite good. Brian Dennehy is very imposing as Sheriff Cobb. Despite his size, he is quite nimble with a six shooter and shows it off quite often before the showdown with Paden at the film’s climax. Ray Baker is a typically power and land hungry villain as Ethan Mckendrick. Baker does not really break out of the stereotype he is playing here, but the film is so entertaining, that it’s not a big hindrance.
The biggest disappointment is in the female performances of the movie. Rosanna Arquette’s scenes in the film look to be building to a love triangle between her Paden and Emmett, but nothing ever materializes. The original running time for the film was much longer but was cut down, so apparently that’s where much of her screen time must have gone. Lynn Whitfield plays Mal’s sister named Rae, but is not really given enough screen time to establish more than a two dimensional character. Linda Hunt is the only female that breaks out and has a great performance in the film as Stella, the woman that runs the local saloon. She has a weird platonic relationship with Paden, as he admires her greatly.
may be Kasdan’s best film. It is certainly his most entertaining film as the picture moves along as if it were no more than an elaborate game of “Cowboys and Indians”. It certainly takes place in no real place, but the mythical West of Rio Bravo
. Paden’s duel with Cobb takes us back to a place in our minds where bad guys were up to no good, and good guys were duty bound to do the right thing. As a director, Kasdan has yet to be able to bring to the screen this type of entertainment again. Perhaps he should go back and watch The Magnificent Seven
and remember how he felt about it. The ending of Silverado
actually hints at a sequel, maybe its time for one.