Silverado (Lawrence Kasdan, 1985): USA
Reviewed by Byron Potau. Viewed at the LA International Film Festival
In 1985, with the western having been thought to be dead, especially after the Heaven’s Gate fiasco, two films were released that helped breath enough life into the genre until it could make its triumphant return, briefly, in the early 1990’s. Those two films were Clint Eastwood’s underrated Pale Rider, and Lawrence Kasdan’s Silverado which was screened at the James Bridges Theater at UCLA Friday night as part of the L.A. Film Festival.
Typically mythical and expansive, dwelling on a symbolic landscape, the western comes to suggest something else. Not so with Kasdan’s Silverado which is too busy capturing the tireless action to dwell on the view. In this film characters are good or bad and everything is explained so the viewer does not need to spend any time trying to figure it out during or after the film. There is also hardly a moment to catch one’s breath. One could easily say it is a western for those who do not typically like westerns.
The film starts off with several bangs as Emmett (Scott Glenn) shoots himself out of trouble as he is ambushed by four men whose motives are yet unclear. Emmett soon stumbles upon Paden (Kevin Kline) who was left in the desert in his pajamas to die. Paden takes up with Emmet until they help out Mal (Danny Glover) who will soon return the favor. Next up Emmett must break his childish brother Jake (Kevin Costner) and Paden out of jail before Jake hangs the next day. As they ride out of town they meet up with Mal and happen upon a wagon train that has just been robbed of their life savings. Guess who comes to the rescue? All of this happens in about the first half hour. This should give you an idea of the frenetic pace of the film which jams every western scenario known to the genre as though it were the last western that would ever be made. The rest of the film has similar scrapes the characters get into including the major conflict of the film which deals with the rich land baron forcing his cattle onto the land of the new settlers and other property owners. There is an evil sheriff (Brian Dennehy), his crazy eyed deputy (Jeff Fahey), a saloon keeper (Linda Hunt), a pretty and single homesteader (Rosanna Arquette), and as many other western cliché characters you can think of.
The cast is uniformly excellent, but it is Kasdan’s screenplay, co written with his brother Mark, which is the real star of the film. The situations the characters get into are fun and suspenseful and one after another, but it is the witty dialogue that makes it special and adds to the likability of the characters who each have their own unique personality with dialogue tailored to him whether it is Mal talking about what “ain’t right,” or Paden talking about “bad luck.” However, the film has its failings and they start with an overzealous music score that makes the cornball situations that much more embarrassing. Also, Kasdan seems to have made it a little too clear who is good and who is bad without much in the middle. Yet, it is all in good fun and that is really what Kasdan is going for here and succeeds in accomplishing for most of the film.