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Silverado
cast: Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Kevin Costner, Danny Glover, and Brian Dennehy

director: Lawrence Kasden

132 minutes (PG) 1985
widescreen ratio 2.20:1
Sony blu-ray Region B retail

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Christopher Geary
This is one of the greatest westerns. Primarily for its skilled evocation of 'wild west' genre traditions and lore while also delivering a modern pace and refreshing tone, instead of adopting the darkly brooding energy of many such films produced after Peckinpah's seminal The Wild Bunch. In short, Silverado is an action adventure, not a violent drama. Its laconic heroes are stoic, and formidably steadfast, amidst character-driven plotting. The chief villain is a wily predator, not simply a callous brute. An expansive storyline reworks the variable formulas of classic westerns in ways that revel in cowboy conventions, elevating the material into a celebration of American horse opera aesthetics. It's a tribute that counteracts much of the sleazy, stylised re-branding by cultist spaghetti westerns but without losing the revisionist appeal of an up-to-date Hollywood mode.

Reflecting both The Magnificent Seven (1960), and The Long Riders (1980), this is an ensemble piece, with a principal cast of talented actors who were on the cusp of household-name stardom: Kevin Kline (soon to appear in Cry Freedom and A Fish Called Wanda), Kevin Costner (who made the big-time as Eliot Ness in De Palma's The Untouchables), Danny Glover (only two years away from Lethal Weapon), and already well-seasoned pros like Scott Glenn (The Keep, The Right Stuff), and Brian Dennehy (Cocoon). The hand-picked supporting players form an extraordinary list, with Linda Hunt (Dune), John Cleese (who portrays a small town sheriff), Rosanna Arquette (whose role in the film ended up, mostly, edited from a nearly three-hour rough cut), Jeff Goldblum (shortly to win genre celebrity for Cronenberg's The Fly), and there's a memorable cameo from Brion James, plus Amanda Wyss (Nightmare On Elm Street victim), and a henchman role for then-unknown Jeff Fahey.

With a plot that revolves around moral themes and the optimistic pioneering spirit of settlers in a big country, where friendship and family held the promise of greater rewards than even all the riches offered by the land itself, Silverado is an elegantly simple tale about four social misfits joining forces to right a few wrongs. Along the way, however, it encompasses familiar motifs and elements from dozens (perhaps hundreds) of earlier westerns. It begins with a gunfight and ends with a showdown but finds plenty of time in-between for the armed escort of a homesteaders' wagon train; jailbreak of a gunslinger rescued from hanging; recovery of a cashbox from a band of thieving outlaws in a box canyon, a cowpoke hero trampled by an enemy's horse, the kidnapping of a child for hostage value, a cattle stampede as a diversion for the heroes' attack, saloon bar fistfights, ironical appearances for a rocking chair and tumbleweed, streets rapidly cleared of anxious townspeople before the finale's confrontation, numerous horse-riding stunts, quick-draw slayings, and other little bits of business, and western symbolism, that cohere into something far more than the sum of all those parts, creating superb entertainment. Our reluctant heroes take up arms together in direct opposition to greed, corruption, racism, belligerent fools and aggressive stupidity, bringing down the tyranny in Silverado fashioned by the crooked lawman and the notoriously unscrupulous rancher.

Fine cinematography by John Bailey (Cat People remake, Groundhog Day) of New Mexico locations in winter, and the unforgettable score by accomplished composer Bruce Broughton add lustre to magnificent production merits. As a matinee-styled movie for a whole-family audience, there's really no better western than this.

Disc extras: a very good making-of featurette produced in 1998, plus Return To Silverado - with Kevin Costner who reminisces quite candidly about the filming, and Along The Silverado Trail - which is just a title for the commentary track by western historians Frank Thompson, Paul Hutton, and Steve Aron.
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