Silverado


Silverado

Scott Glenn catches Kevin Kline lying down on the job.

(1985) Western (Columbia) Scott Glenn, Kevin Kline, Kevin Costner, Danny Glover, Rosanna Arquette, Brian Dennehy, Jeff Goldblum, Linda Hunt, John Cleese, Ray Baker, Lynn Whitfield, Jeff Fahey, Tom Brown, Richard Jenkins, Amanda Wyss, James Gammon, Joe Seneca. Directed by Lawrence Kasdan

 

Back in ’85, the Western as a genre was essentially dead. It had been in many ways one of the most dominant genres in movies during the 50s and into the 60s but faded from popular appeal, although the Italians made some pretty good ones in the 70s with Clint Eastwood particularly. However, the anti-hero craze of that era didn’t translate to the Western very well although periodically movies like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and others managed to re-capture the magic.

Silverado was an attempt to do just that by Kasdan, screenwriter of Raiders of the Lost Ark and director of The Big Chill and Body Heat. He assembled a cast of some of the best young (at the time) actors in Hollywood and set them loose on the genre.

Emmett (Glenn) is a loner, an expert gunslinger just released from prison after killing the father of a cattle baron named McKendrick (Baker) who had drawn on Emmett. Now he wants nothing more than to be left alone but apparently it is not to be as he is attacked by a trio of bushwhackers ambushing him in his cabin.

Emmett decides to head to Silverado to find out what’s going on. Whilst en route, he discovers Paden (Kline), wearing only his skivvies and left to die in the desert. Emmett rescues him and together they head to Turley to meet up with Emmett’s brother Jake (Costner). Jake however is in jail awaiting hanging – he killed a man in self-defense but the judge didn’t see it that way. When Paden discovers one of the men who robbed him, he kills him and ends up in the same cell as Jake. Emmett breaks them both out and the trio escapes with the help of Mal (Glover), an African-American cowboy run out of town by Sheriff English John Langston (Cleese).

The quartet then encounter a wagon train whose money has been stolen by bandits. A comely homesteader (Arquette) attracts the attention of Paden, who along with his mates takes the money back and returns it to the homesteaders.

In Silverado, Mal discovers his father (Seneca) has been run off his ranch by McKendrick’s men who later return and kill his dad. Mal’s sister is working as a saloon girl in the saloon run by Stella (Hunt) and administered by the town Sheriff, Cobb (Dennehy) a former outlaw who once rode with Paden but now reports to McKendrick. He offers Paden the job of saloon manager which Paden accepts.

Emmett finds out from his sister that McKendrick is driving out all the lawful homesteaders in an attempt to make the range free for his cattle and indeed McKendrick’s men attempt to drive off the new set of homesteaders. The situation escalates when Emmett is ambushed and beaten nearly to death before being rescued by Mal, and his sister’s home burned to the ground, her husband (the land officer) murdered and their son Augie (Brown) kidnapped. The four men – Emmett, Paden, Jake and Mal – must take the law into their own hands if justice is to be done in Silverado.

This is really a throwback to the popcorn Westerns of the late 50s and the early 60s – John Ford would have approved, I think. The ensemble cast shows varying degrees of comfort in the saddle – Glenn is a natural for the genre, Kline less so although his laconic delivery channels that of Gary Cooper. The wide open spaces of New Mexico are brilliantly photographed and made ample use of by cinematographer John Bailey.

Costner’s performance of Jake is compelling and charismatic and would propel him into stardom. He damn near steals the show from his better-known peers which is no small feat. He captures the attention of the audience every time he’s onscreen and brings a whole lot of energy to the film. In many ways he drives the movie into a more modern vein, or at least modern for its time.

The 80s were a particularly fertile time for films and this one is a classic of its time. While it didn’t resurrect the Western the way I think the filmmakers and studio hoped it would, it did at least open the door for a trickle of Westerns (some with Costner) to get studio green lights. Without Silverado I doubt we see Dances With Wolves, The Unforgiven and the dozens of others that have appeared since then. I suppose in that sense, it was successful – the Western remains a fringe genre but at least it’s not extinct.

WHY RENT THIS: Great ensemble cast. A real throwback to the epic Western.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Somewhat pedestrian storyline.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are more than a few shoot-outs and a couple of bad words here and there.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Costner was cast as Jake by Kasdan as a way of making amends for cutting his role completely out of The Big Chill.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is a very interesting interview with Costner as he is quite candid not only about making the film but about his misgivings about the character as well. The Gift Set edition included a pack of playing cards, although this version is long out of print. You may be able to pick it up on eBay however.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $32.2M on a $23M production budget; it was considered a box office disappointment at the time although it has become more than profitable due to its home video release and regular cable and broadcast appearances.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Tombstone

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: A Midsummer’s Night Dream (1999)

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Kings of the Evening


Kings of the Evening

Linara Washington discovers how fine Tyson Beckford can look.

(2010) Drama (Indiecan) Tyson Beckford, Lynn Whitfield, Glynn Turman, Linara Washington, Reginald T. Dorsey, James Russo, Bruce McGill, Steven Williams, Clyde Jones, Lou Myers, Willard E. Pugh, Justin Meeks, Terrence Flack. Directed by Andrew P. Jones

When times are hard, sometimes the only things that sustain us are our own sense of self-worth. Even the best of us can use a boost of self-confidence every now and again.

In the Great Depression, the African American community was hit harder than most. Already struggling for employment, jobs have become even scarcer and some have resorted to crime just to put food on the table. Homer Hobbs (Beckford) just got paroled from a chain gang after having stolen some worn tires. He ambles into town looking for work and a place to stay and not having very much money for either. He meets up with Benny (Dorsey), a bit of a dandy and a hustler who promises him work and a place to stay for a fee.

Benny is as good as his word; he hooks up Homer with work in a quarry and lodging at the boarding house of Gracie (Whitfield), a no-nonsense lady who is just hanging on by the skin of her teeth. The only other boarder who’s got steady employment is Lucy (Washington) who works as a seamstress and is trying to save up enough cash to open her own dress shop.

Putting a crimp in that is a loan shark (Russo) who wants to collect debts owed by Lucy’s ex-husband and is willing to do whatever it takes to force poor Lucy out of her hard-earned cash. Homer becomes sweet on her nearly immediately.

Also living in the boarding house is Clarence (Turman), a gentleman relying on a long-delayed government relief check that has yet to arrive. His desperation and plummeting self-confidence (and feelings of being a failure) are driving him to the edge of doing something drastic.

Keeping them together is a men’s fashion show hosted every Friday night. To the winner goes the princely sum of five dollars and the title “King of the Evening.” When there’s not a whole lot to look forward to, this becomes a central driving force for most of the men because, as the master of ceremonies proclaims, “If a man can stand up to the mirror, he can stand up to anything.”

While the cast is full of unfamiliar names (Beckford is a former male model who is just now crossing over into the acting realm), it does a pretty stellar job, particularly the veterans Turman as a man hanging on by a thread to his dignity and Whitfield as the practical but harried boarding house owner. Beckford and Washington also make a fine couple with plenty of chemistry and Dorsey provides additional spice.

Jones does a fine job of re-creating the Depression – not just in the look of the film but also in the tenor. The feeling of desperation, despair and of lowered self-worth – all captured beautifully, as well as the camaraderie of people rowing together in the same leaky boat. While some might look at this as a movie aimed primarily at African-American audiences, I found it to carry a lot of universal truths. The pacing may have been a bit slow and there isn’t much in the way of action – even the confrontation with the loan shark is low key – but still in all, not a complete sin.

That’s not to say that the experience of being an exploited minority doesn’t play heavily into the story here. Certainly there are racial overtones that wouldn’t exist for a white cast, although Jones suggests that the heavier prejudice is more class-oriented than ethnic-oriented, a point that is well-taken. He does give all of the characters a goodly amount of dignity, although Washington’s Lucy is a bit shrill at times (which is understandable given her background – Lucy’s that is).

This is a movie that sat on the shelf for years while it was shuffled about from one indie distributor to another before getting a microscopic release and quickly being slotted into home video. Sometimes, there are good reasons why a film doesn’t get the kind of release it deserves. Here, I think distributors didn’t see a cast they could sell and figured that this would get only a niche audience – African Americans into art films. I think they sold the movie short.

WHY RENT THIS: A great sense of place and time. Nice performances evoke the desperation of the period.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: This might be a bit too slow-moving and low-key for some.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a little bit of foul language and a smidgeon of violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Glynn Turman was once married to soul legend Aretha Franklin.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $99,270 on an unreported production budget; it appears that the movie was a flop.

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

TOMORROW: MacGruber