Sunday, January 28, 2018

Western Watch: Silverado (1985)

Watched: 01/26/2018
Format: Home/ Amazon
Viewing: oh, who knows?
Decade: 1980's

Silverado (1985) was the first Western I liked. Nay, loved.

It may have also been the first for-adults Western I ever watched, although the movie was wildly popular among my classmates and many-a-suburban kid.  A semi-sprawling story, borrowing elements from other classics - we could raw comparisons to Shane here and there - and I confess to a deficit of knowledge on the Western genre to make much in the way of further direct comparison, Silverado follows the fallout of four men coming together in a frontier town to which some have past attachment and making justice by killing just an ungodly number of shady characters (one has to believe the town's population is depleted by 1/5th by the time the movie ends).

The movie has aged extraordinarily well - the product of writer/ director Lawrence Kasdan, who will - in his dotage and posthumously - find the respect he probably should have been getting in his prime, and who shaped the imaginations of a planet of people for generations in collaboration with George Lucas.  And, he also did The Big Chill, which I haven't watched in fifteen years, at least, but is a fantastic movie.

I hadn't thought much about the fact that Kasdan returned to some of his Big Chill cast in making Silverado, but there's Kevin Kline as Paden, Jeff Goldblum as Slick, Patricia Gaul as Kate and Kevin Costner, who'd been cut from The Big Chill when they dumped the flashbacks, and appears only as a corpse in the film, here as Jake, the rootin' tootin' wild-card cowboy.

Scott Glenn is brilliantly cast as Emmett, the strong silent gunfighter who has served his time and is passing through town to bid adios to his sister before heading to California.  Brian Dennehy similarly phenomenally well-used as Cobb, the charming bully of a town Sheriff, sharing a past with Kline's character.  And, my favorite, Linda Hunt as Stella - the diminutive saloon keep of Silverado's sprawling saloon, The Midnight Star. 

Also present is Rosanna Arquette, better than she needs to be, as always.  A pre-Color Purple and Lethal Weapon Danny Glover plays Mal, a man in deep minority status in the area who has a genuine need for justice.  Jeff Fahey.  John Cleese.  Richard Jenkins.  And I am positive I've missed three or four more, but you get the idea.  How Bruce Dern isn't in this movie is a small wonder - because you really just sorta expect that there's a place for Bruce Dern here somewhere.

Beautifully shot  (John Bailey) in the wilds on New Mexico, and with an epic, pitch-perfect score by Bruce Broughton - who would - oddly - not become as famous as his contemporaries despite an astonishing resume (Tombstone, y'all) - the movie shot high and - in my opinion - nails everything it tries.

As a product of its time, the film is sometimes deeply violent, and women are not in action-oriented roles, even if their mettle is never in question.  In fact, Arquette's quiet, widowed farmer is the one person who seems to make everyone nervous with her grit.  And, of course, Stella's keen intellect and bold lifestyle out here on the edge of the world immediately wins not just Paden, but - I think - the audience.  In fact, as a kid, I remember a long discussion with pals about how bad-ass Stella was, which was not something 12-year olds usually discussed.

This makes me realize all I really want in life is to have drinks with Linda Hunt

But the characters are not those of the muscle-bound adventures sold by Stallone and Arnie at the time - and I think we all knew, even as kids, that this was a jump better.  There's definitely some moral gray territory played with by Paden, especially (and as I've aged, he makes as much or more sense as the POV character of the movie).  Mal, Paden and Emmett aren't necessarily sensitive fellows, but they are characters with brains in their heads, which certainly makes the movie work a bit better over time than a video-game shooter to the big boss.

Speaking of - Dennehy's Cobb is a phenomenal villain.  We can like Henry Fonda in Once Upon a Time in the West or fear Lee Marvin in Liberty Valance or boo Jack Palance's seething psycho in Shane, but Dennehy - maybe sociopathic, but a fun sociopathic - sells someone who is weirdly happy in this place, no longer riding ahead of the law, and, in an irony he relishes, wearing the badge himself and keeping the peace for the highest bidder.

I've enjoyed plenty of other "modern" westerns, if we define that by the post-Spaghetti Western form of the genre when the US decided to occasionally dip back into the well of the Oater (I read some where during film school that in the 1950's, one in every five movies or something was a Western, but I can't verify that).  The 3:10 to Yuma remake was good stuff.  In the late 80's, I enjoyed the Young Guns films.  But Silverado is still the standard-bearer in my opinion.  Weirdly, I really don't think this particular movie has been passed down to the younger generation - who probably see Westerns as wildly exotic stuff at this point.

I can't be objective about the movie.  It's a childhood favorite, and one we watched over and over.  But, if you've not watched it or not watched it in a while... give it a spin.  I swear it holds up.


Jake Shore said...

Dude. This such a great film. Thank you for giving the respect it so richly deserves. This movie is conspicuously absent from Top 10 western lists, and I cannot fathom why.

It features a superb ensemble cast, in which everyone gets to, and does shine. I mean, there is not a single less than great performance. It's remarkable.

The script is fantastic. You are spot on about Lawrence Kasdan not getting the respect he deserves. He is such a great screenwriter, I cannot believe he hasn't gotten more work over the years.

The score is iconic. The New Mexico in winter scenery is eye candy. At the conclusion of the opening scene, there's that great shot of Emmett stepping outside as the camera takes in the whole lanscape... man, it's a great shot.

I know it's a lot of superlatives for this film, but if you haven't seen it, you a need to go out and rent it RIGHT NOW. It's the ensemble western The Magnificent Seven only wishes it could be.

Something must be said about Brian Dennehy. He is so gifted at playing villains, I cannot think of a role outside of Tommy Boy and Cocoon where isn't one. Unlike so many "great" Hollywood villains, who you kind of relish and even like on screen, Dennehy has the ability to make you genuinely despise him. I know everyone loves Heath Ledger's Joker peformance, and rightly so. But did you really hate him? What about Hannibal Lecter? Despite their evil natures, there is a degree of charm to these villains which makes us enjoy their over the top, sometimes preening, peformances. I'm not sure many of these actors are willing to make themselves that hateable. Dennehy does not suffer this hesitation. His Sheriff Cobb is such a loathsome character, you count the moments hoping for justice. I wonder if this affected his career, because he really is first class actor.

Speaking of underused actors, Kevin Cline is every bit as likeable as Dennehy is odious. He has a nice arc in the film, and I love how the movie never betrays the story or the characters by trying to force "satisfying" moments like Paden's relationship with Arquette. "Hannah's a smart, pretty woman, but
she's got a hard idea for living."

The film is just filled with one great line, one great scene after another. The opening one I mentioned, Paden attempting to retrieve his horse, Mal's attempt to get a drink in the saloon, the jail break, "You're wearing my hat"....

My favorite line is from the scene where Paden is reunited with his horse. As it nuzzles him...

Paden: Can't you see this horse(dog) loves me?

Calvary Sgt: I had a gal do that to me once. It didn't make her my wife.

So good. I'm watching it tonight.

The League said...

I am very glad to have gotten you fired up to watch this one again! I am very much in alignment, I guess I'll disagree on the Cobb part. Sort of. At this late date when i watch the movie, I can't help but enjoy watching Dennehy play the character to the hilt. And Cobb, sonuvabutch that he is, is enjoying the hell out of being a terrible person in this town. And, sorta, that has it's own charm. I will agree that he's not charming to anyone else in the film - there's no tension there or confusion about what the relationships are - but, you can tell Dennehy is relishing the role. And the scene where he explains the bit about the dog and Paden wraps up the story... just perfect.

Jake Shore said...

Oh, no doubt Dennehy is relishing the performance, and I certainly appreciate it. Maybe it's a personal thing, but when Dennehy puts on his bad guy hat, he just gets under my skin. I thought the same thing about him in First Blood. Strangely, after perusing his IMDB page, he hasn't played the villain all that often. I guess those performances just stood out for me. He also played John Wayne Gacy on screen. Yeesh.

I just noticed I left "(dog)" in that quote. I had a clunky sentence before the quote, which I deleted, that referenced the fact that when my dog comes to me to snuggle I often say to my wife, "Can't you see this dog loves me?"