I’m happy to admit that I went to the cinema to see Silverado, something I wouldn’t normally admit for a movie with Kevin Costner in it. At the time, it was hailed, presumably by those bankrolling the production, as the return of the Western.
It didn’t actually herald the rebirth of that particular film genre, but it provided some decent entertainment and a valuable diversion from the typical action fodder that proliferated in the mid 80s. It’s directed and co-written by Lawrence Kasdan (the other writer being his brother Mark), who created the screenplay for Raiders and directed Return Of The Jedi among his numerous other credits.
The story is loosely hung around the range wars of the late 1800s, which has been fertile Western material from the genre’s first appearance (Range War (1939), Shane (1953), Chisum (1970) and a hundred others).
Four riders meet and travel to the town of Silverado, each looking for a new start, but where each is destined to confront their own personal nemeses.
The four are Paden (Kevin Kline), Emmett (Scott Glenn), Jake (Kevin Costner) and Mal (Danny Glover), and of these the strongest performances come from Glenn and Kline. Curiously, Costner is pitched as the young hot-head of the gang, although he was already 30 years old when he made this.
How they all meet and become friends is actually half the film, so we don’t actually get to the fabled Silverado until deep into the movie. Along the way they run into a stuffy Sheriff played in a very dry fashion by John Cleese. He has one great line in the movie when, after been shot at by Mal from long range he declares that, “Today, my jurisdiction ends here.”
When they do eventually get to Silverado they discover that it’s run by a nasty cattle baron, Ethan McKendrick (Ray Baker) who has employed an old pal of Paden’s to be Sheriff. Sheriff Cobb is played by scenery chewing Brian Dennehy at his cynical best, setting up a moral dilemma for Paden, who must choose between and old friendship and doing the right thing.
What strikes me now is some well known performers who get remarkably small parts in all this. Rosanna Arquette turns up a Hannah, representing strong willed women of the era, but does relatively little else. The stand-out minor roles are the great Linda Hunt as Stella, the local brothel owner, for whom Paden has a soft spot. And, Jeff Goldblum plays a sinister gambler called Calvin “Slick” Stanhope, where he’s suitably menacing.
The entertainment in this movie comes from how each overcomes their foes, and how it connects to something we’ve previously learned about each hero. It was never quite good enough to turn into sequel material, even if the final dialogue is “We’ll be back!” Given that nearly 25 years have passed, that seems unlikely, even if many people have fond memories of Silverado.
Looking at it now, the universe of Silverado fits neatly between the gritty realism of Clint Eastwood’s period pieces and the implausible gloss of many John Wayne and James Stewart classics.
The cowboys here all seem to be well dressed and impeccably laundered, and nobody makes the sensible choice to bring a shotgun to a close quarter fight. But what it does have, and is truly appreciated by this reviewer, is those amazing big country vistas.
In the end, I guess the biggest fault of this movie is that it’s actually too respectful of the source material on which it’s culled and insufficiently inventive with it. It begs the question: if Kasdan liked 50s westerns so much, why didn’t he just watch them, rather than making a complete copy thirty years later? It’s a question we all might ask those involved in the new version of True Grit, when it appears next year.
Blu-ray didn’t actually do this movie too many favours, I’d suggest. It was originally shot in 35mm using Panavision Panaflex cameras, and so there is detail in here which the resolution of Blu-ray does tease out. But, infuriatingly, some of the big external scenery shots are disappointingly grainy considering the amount of natural light available.
I know it’s too late to fix it now, but it highlights some of the low standards that prevailed in the 80s. Don’t get me wrong, it’s much better than any DVD release (including the Superbit), but it’s hardly the revelation it could have been.
Contrasting this with Blu-ray of The Professionals (1966) which I reviewed a while back, the 19 years that separates these films was one where image quality was no longer given precedence.
However, in stark contrast, what I really liked was the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround soundtrack, which not only lets the music have substantial range but also puts some really low end substance to the sound effects. The gunshots have a resonance that sells the power of the weapons being used, and the cattle stampede is thunderous.
Slightly less overpowering is the very short list of extras available here, as there are only three if you consider the BD Live content as independent. There’s a commentary by notable western historians and writers about this period, but none by Kasdan, curiously. There are also two featurettes, one twenty minute piece with Costner talking about what he learned making this movie (which is that Kasdan knows more about filmmaking than he does), and a longer 37 minute ‘The Making of Silverado’, which was made to support the promotion of the movie and contains a little of everything and everyone involved.
Neither of these features is in HD, and they’re on previous DVD releases. The fact they didn’t even include the theatrical trailer suggests that the timescale and budget for putting Silverado on Blu-ray was small.
I like this movie, and this is the best you’ll see it at home without your own 35mm projector, but Sony didn’t take much care in bringing it to the small-ish screen.
Get Silverado [Blu-ray] at the Den of Geek Amazon Store