Silverado (1985)

Directed by Lawrence Kasdan

This is a western that wants so much to be a great western, wants so much to emulate and to pay homage to style and at the same time infuse it with a contemporary relevance (and thus revitalize or at least demonstrate the genre’s continuing ability to work) …

It wants to do all these but sadly, never quite makes it.

But God knows you’re rooting for it, and Silverado does succeed to an extent.

It’s a bit like the thief who stumbles on a treasure of jewels but can only steal so much. He wants to steal it all but can’t carry that much — but he tries and in the end gets caught because he lingers too long trying to grab it all.

It certainly has everything in it: the gunplay, the landscapes, the rousing music (in the tradition of The Magnificent Seven). So why does it not quite make it?

Frankly, it’s too long. It has too many good storylines in it because it conjures too many western character types. It might have worked, as it does in The Magnificent Seven, but writer-director Lawrence Kasdan is too much of a good storyteller. He can’t resist mining all the lines and in the end gets bogged down.

If it had, say, only two primary lines it could focus on them, while the other, secondary lines could be handled more breezily as supports for the main line or lines. But Kasdan wants to do it all.

It also becomes a bit confusing because you’re never quite sure where your focus should be.

Danny Glover, Kevin Costner, Scott Glenn and Kevin Kline as the four strangers that become friends.

Compounding the problem is the admitted deletion (see DVD documentary) of the romance story with Patricia Arquette. This was dropped, as the filmmakers tell us, due to the film’s length and (probably more to the point) an inability to develop and resolve it adequately.

That’s a good reason for dropping it, but unfortunately it creates trouble with the final edit. At the end we see the traditional western resolution of heroes riding off, each with some kind of romantic resolution. And it’s hard to figure out where these came from.

It’s because they weren’t properly enunciated in the on-screen story. They may have been there in the script but not in the final edit.

I liked Silverado but I suspect it is more it’s channeling of the western idea and the movie’s actors (all of whom I always like).

While there may be the odd exception, most great westerns are very simple and are very focused on just a few characters and at most two storylines. They’re characterized by their simplicity. Here, there are two many good characters and too many good story ideas. They kind of cancel one another out.

In the end you feel as if you’ve seen the ghost of the western, rather than the living, real thing.

It has the look and feel of the Hollywood western, but it doesn’t have the bones.

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