I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Silverado

SILVERADO is Lawrence Kasdan’s upbeat 1985 western about some cowboys and, you know… they meet up and ride together and there’s guns and a jail and a saloon and a guy trying to steal land and all that. I don’t know, it’s a western.

This was Kasdan’s third time directing, after BODY HEAT and THE BIG CHILL. But consider that in the half decade before this he co-wrote THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and RETURN OF THE JEDI. This is his rare directing job that has some of the vibe of those George Lucas productions. He wrote SILVERADO with his brother Mark (CRIMINAL LAW) and all these decades later he wrote SOLO with his son Jonathan (who had a bit part in SILVERADO at the age of 14) so I thought it would be a good time to write about this one.

Our band of gunmen come together WIZARD OF OZ style. Emmett (Scott Glenn, MORE AMERICAN GRAFFITI) is a stoic sharpshooter headed for the town of Silverado when he finds Paden (Kevin Kline, RICKI AND THE FLASH) passed out in the desert in his undies (some motherfuckers stole everything from him, and he’s most upset about the horse and the hat). Later they meet Mal (Danny Glover, BAD ASS 2: BAD ASSES) by witnessing his astute handling of a racial incident in a bar, and Jake (Kevin Costner, REVENGE) is Emmett’s dumbass little brother. This is when Costner could still play the cocky, energetic guy that everybody calls “kid”!

Jeff Fahey (DARKMAN III: DIE DARKMAN DIE) and Jeff Goldblum (DEATH WISH) and Amanda Wyss (Tina from A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET) also show up for a bit.

It’s this group of characters who all have their own things, but also a chemistry. Most of them know either the coolest or funniest thing to say in most moments. And they’re all so casual about it. They operate as a unit, trusting each other, staying calm, knowing what to do, communicating with few or no words, even if one of them is being an idiot. Well, let’s be honest, even if Jake is being an idiot. Like when they’re trying to sneak away from the jail and Paden watches Jake shoot one, two, three stairs out from under a gunman and then gives him a simple “shhh” gesture.

It feels like the script has been studied under a magnifying glass and finessed with watch repair tools. The first act is so perfect I restarted it 35 minutes in. Each character is introduced with bravado and humor. The Kasdan brothers use a precise style of writing that I love, where little details or phrases come up casually and later loop around to have greater significance and it feels so natural but I never saw it coming. As Emmett and Paden come into town to meet Jake they pass some guys setting up a noose in the town square. Later the nosey Sheriff Langston (John Cleese, MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN) asks them if they’re in town for the hanging. No, they’re here to meet this guy. Langston thinks he might know where their friend is – so he brings them to the jail, where the little goofball is staying after a drunken bar brawl last night. And as he tells Emmett his story Paden asks, “He’s the one you’re hanging tomorrow, isn’t he?”

Yep.

Like later scenes in DJANGO UNCHAINED, Mal gets hassled by white people just for going into a saloon. He buys a bottle of whisky, pours a glass, and then has to fight racists. The two best moments in this bar confrontation:

1) The way he winces when an opponent breaks off a bottle to fight with him. Not because he might get cut – because he just bought that bottle!

2) When he has given in to the sheriff’s demand to leave but then goes back and drinks the glass of whisky he already poured. He picks it up delicately and takes a moment to enjoy it. The obvious choice would be to slam it like a macho cowboy, but Glover conveys that he has earned this drink and he is damn well going to savor it.

Here’s an example of the beauty of this script: Langston kicks Mal out of town, saying “I want you out of my jurisdiction!” Later the sheriff is hot on the tail of Emmett, Paden and Jake, and gets his hat shott off by an unseen gunman in the hills. He decides to give up his chase, saying “Today my jurisdiction ends here.” And of course it turns out to be Mal doing the shooting, so by this cowardly gerrymandering he did indeed leave Langston’s jurisdiction, as requested.

I also love Kline’s character. Wasn’t sure what to expect, having just seen him in WILD WILD WEST (which uses the same town set from this movie and has “KASDAN” painted on a building in tribute) and knowing he’s not the rugged type you expect in a western. He spends several scenes in his long underwear after being clothes-jacked and just walks around town like he doesn’t give a shit. His dry, sarcastic humor is a highlight of the film, and he proves himself in a THE-GETAWAY-esque scene where he sees a guy with his stolen horse and scrambles to quickly buy a gun and a bullets to shoot him with.

Even in this scene there are many great little details. As he stands opening the box of bullets to load the gun he seems to get shot, but he doesn’t react other than to look down – it went right through the low-hanging crotch of his long johns. His arm is the only part of him that moves as he shoots the guy right off his horse.

So many badass little lines, things that suggest past adventures without specifics. When he finds out Emmett plans to bust his brother out, Paden says, “You’ll have to deal me out on that. I’ve had some experience with that sort of thing. I don’t want any more.” (But then he gets arrested and ends up in the same jail cell anyway.)

And so many visual things too. Like when the sheriff and a deputy are sitting down with a chess board and the sheriff contemplates his move, makes it, then spins the board around – he’s playing against himself, the other guy is just watching.

On the way to town our boys come across a caravan who got robbed by an army of bandits. And these are the type of guys who will insist on going and tricking the bastards, who hugely outnumber them, and getting the money back. Paden exchanges some looks with Hannah (Roseanna Arquette, also in MORE AMERICAN GRAFFITI) and then her old man gets shot in the head. Today was a good day.

Here are the two weaknesses of the movie: first, the women don’t get to do much. Hannah has a few scenes implying strength and independence, but never builds on them. Mal has a sister named Rae (Lynn Whitfield, JAWS: THE REVENGE) who’s kinda cool but barely in it.

Second, it fizzles out a little. There’s a stretch before the climax where everyone gets real serious and it gets kind of slow and less fun, and honestly the last act (despite having a stampede and lots of shooting and horse-chasing) is not as exciting as everything leading up to it. In fact my favorite part of the climax is the transition into it: Mal tells Emmett “they took the little boy with ’em” and Emmett doesn’t say a word, doesn’t even nod, he just thinks about it for a second and then yanks the bandage off his head, prompting the rousing theme music by Bruce Broughton (MOONWALKER) to rev up as he makes intense eye contact and then goes and puts on his gunbelt and bandolier and hat and Mal gets ready too and now we’re talkin. It seems like.

Also I like that before Paden and his old friend Cobb (oh, sorry, I forgot to mention that the villain is Brian Dennehy, BEST SELLER)  draw on each other they first offer sincere goodbyes.

But still, this is the rare western that successfully pulls off a popcorn blockbuster type of feel, and when they say “We’ll be back!” at the end I wish it had meant they’d made a followup a couple years later. I guess maybe that would’ve happened if it hadn’t opened a week after BACK TO THE FUTURE. You should be ashamed of yourself, Marty McFly. And then you have the nerve to make your part 3 a western. Shame.

Anyway, if SOLO ends up having any of the sense of fun of the first chunk of this thing then I’m gonna be happy. This is fuckin crazy but I think there’s a connection to THE FORCE AWAKENS, which Kasdan wrote with J.J. Abrams. Linda Hunt (POCAHONTAS, also a voice in SOLO!) plays Miss Stella, and she’s the Maz Kanata of SILVERADO – a tiny little woman who runs a bar where rough types come but they all respect her and are charmed by her and she can boss them around and stuff.

Paden is so impressed by the place he immediately gets a job there. “Now this is what I call a saloon!” he says.

“Thanks,” Stella says. “That’s what I call it too.”

There’s also a real good STAR WARS casting connection. “Cavalry Sergeant” is played by old school cowboy actor and “Purple People Eater” singer Sheb Wooley, who is believed to be the one who recorded the ADR of being eaten by an alligator in the 1951 film DISTANT DRUMS, which was used by sound designer Ben Burtt in all three original STAR WARS films (and the Holiday Special) and became known as “The Wilhelm Scream.” Beat that one, other movies. You can’t.

Hats off to SILVERADO.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Thursday, May 24th, 2018 at 11:57 am and is filed under Reviews, Western. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

39 Responses to “Silverado”

  1. I love this movie for all of the reasons you said. I never made the connection to Danny Glover sniping his hat and the end of my jurisdiction bit. That makes it even funnier now. Also I love the Wilhelm scream tidbit, I never heard that before. It was because of this movie that I was stoked to see Dreamcatcher…well I still love Silverado.

  2. For some reason I never saw this one back in the day, even though it’s totally my type of movie: breezy and badass. That combination is where I live. But that’s cool, because I got to find a brand new 80s classic 20 years after the fact.

    I would not watch SOLO if pressing play on the DVD was the only way to get out of a SAW trap but I can see how catching up with SILVERADO could make one want to see a big sci-fi movie with that tone. It’s a pretty great tone.

  3. By the mid 80s it seemed like the western really had been dead for a few years. And between THE LONG RIDERS and PALE RIDER this felt kind of like a cowboy version of THE BIG CHILL. I liked it, but it was very safe and grown up. Maybe I should revisit it?

  4. It’s no YOUNG GUNS II but it’s worth checking out.

  5. It’s way to long, but I love it, and I love Sheb Woolley. Pete Nolan from Rawhide is just one of my all-time favourite characters.

    Saw SOLO, but I don’t know how it will be received, and I am a dyed in the wool SW guy. It’s bloody dark (photographically, I mean), though. Could not tell what was happening sometimes, but it might just have been bad projection.

  6. Boy, those Kasdan boys write real good. I’m glad to see his sons taking on the mantle.

    I remember having the same experience with this. The beginning is so good, it really can’t maintain it for the climax.

  7. Love this flick. I never felt let down by the ending. I liked the part when Kevin Costner has the drop on two guys, but says “hey” before drawing on them, just to give them a fair chance.

  8. Limey, movie theaters are usually pretty notorious for dimming films in order to extend the life of the bulb which isn’t an actual thing since bulbs are supposed to last a super long time.

    Also, one of you, I shall not name this person, is smug as hell all the time. It’s exhausting but I appreciate that he writes well.

  9. Hey The Limey – did you see Solo in 2D or 3D? I’ve seen it in both and I reckon the 2D image is clearer, even more so that usually is the case compared to 3D. It is one of those movies where the 3D adds absolutely nothing (not the case with TLJ or TFA 3D imo). I like the look of the film a lot, but it has a murk to it that does not gel well with 3D.

    I really liked Solo, so interested to see what the take here ends up being. One thing to note is that both times I’ve seen it (midnight last night and 6pm today) the theatre has been, er.. not full. Not even busy. So it’ll be interesting to see how the box office ends up looking.

    Gonna check this one out though, sounds great!

  10. Oh wow, totally forgot that Costner plays the brother in this one. This and QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER got a lot of play on the ol’ family VCR growing up.

  11. Jonathan Kasdan wrote and directed a move called The First Time, with Britt Robertson and Dylan O Brien, that IMO is pretty underrated. Anyone seen that, and if so, any thoughts?

  12. I saw Solo at a press screening. Although it was at an AMC theater, it was in their Imax theater and 2D so I think if it was ever going to look right, they’d make sure it did for the press. And I think that’s just the aesthetic, dim and grimy to look like the underworld. It did not work for me either.

    Kurgan, I effing love Quigley Down Under. That might have been the first western I actually liked. Then Quick and the Dead came along, and eventually I saw the Dollars trilogy.

    Davey, I saw The First Time at Sundance and that made me a Jon Kasdan fan. Jake of course forever earned my loyalty for Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.

  13. Man, I loved this one. I know Costner went on to be more well known as a grown-up, serious actor, but he lives in my mind as this dumbass, cocky, goofy kid.

  14. Fred- QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER is way underrated- it’s a stone-cold classic. You got Peak Tom Selleck, a terrific villain turn from Alan Rickman just a couple years after DIE HARD, and a surprisingly hard-hitting story that somehow still maintains a jovial tone throughout. I showed it to my wife (who typically can’t stand movies about guys on horses) a few months ago, and it joined UNFORGIVEN as the extremely rare Western (Down Under-sten?) that she actually loved.

  15. This is definitely a fun, old-school Western. I’ve seen it many, many times, from the theater, to VHS, DVD and now Blu-ray (where it looks fantastic). Kasdan invests the film with a lot of character and you have the feeling that he’s really trying to get an Epic Western homerun. He doesn’t, unfortunately, but I’d call it a solid triple.

  16. What’s really crazy (I haven’t checked) is that Scott Glenn haven’t done a single western besides this. The man seems born for the saddle.

  17. I still have to catch up on A LOT of Western and this seems like a good one to put on my list.

    Also I wonder if anybody has ever heard of the German wave of Western from the 60s, all based on Karl May novels and mostly centered around the character of Winnetou and his friends. They are a bit cheesy and formulaic as hell and actually I’m not really recommending them for any other reason than I love to hear other people’s opinion on German post-war pre-auteur era cinema.

  18. CJ, they’re quite popular here i Scandinavia. I’ve seen a few of them, but as you say they’re not exactly cutting edge. I remember Terence Hill was in one of the earlier ones.

  19. I’ve seen most of the Karl May movies when I was a kid and liked them quite a lot back then. I should probably revisit them some day to see how they hold up.

  20. Yeah, you really don’t miss out on anything if you don’t know them, other then them being an interesting look at a time when German filmstudios weren’t afraid of producing fun for the masses in every thinkable genre. I wonder if there is a book about that time. Or a documentary. If not, why?

  21. This was one of those movies that my family and I watched whenever it aired on TV, so I have really fond memories of it. I haven’t seen it in years, but the camaraderie between the actors seems genuine. It’s a great ensemble.

  22. I remember the first one – DER SCHATZ IM SILBERSEE – the best, mostly because Herbert “Inspector Dreyfus” Lom were the bad guy.

  23. Everything was better with Herbert Lom. (Also putting international actors in their productions is another thing, that the German movie industry doesn’t do anymore.)

  24. steven – saw it in 2D, but it was in the main screen of the cinema, and I’ve not noticed it being so murky before. I think it’s just Bradford Young’s style but for me it needed a bit more contrast in places because I really had trouble with the visuals in certain scenes.

    Back to SILVERADO – Jeff Goldblum and Brian Dennehy are brilliantly hissable in this too, genuinely sinister.

    If you’re into westerns (or especially if you’re not), I recommend the Randolph Scott/Budd Boetticher Ranown films (inc. Elmore Leonard’s THE TALL T and RIDE LONESOME and COMANCHE STATION); also RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRT (Scott again) and NO NAME ON THE BULLET with Audie Murphy. I’ve only just got back into old westerns.

  25. This is one of my favorite movies ever. Yes, the first half is better than the second half, but that’s not a detriment. The first half is incredible and the second half is simply really good.

  26. An old boyfriend of mine used to giggle in delight when Cleese made his appearance as the sheriff and said, “What’s all this, then?”

  27. I’m going to agree about Scott Glenn being great in this and disagree about Jeff Goldblum and Brian Dennehy being likewise.

    This is one that has grown on me over the years. At the time it wasn’t apparent that this was pretty much the end of the old school, middle tier, well constructed ensemble western, a crowdpleaser for a crowd that had already left the building. Now we get event westerns – THE LONE RANGER, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (2016), THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES etc. – indie westerns that run commentary on the form – MEEK’S CUTOFF, SLOW WEST, THE SALVATION etc. – and contemporary westerns – HELL OR HIGH WATER, THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES etc.

    Those are all great, but they’re not SILVERADO.

    So why didn’t I see it like that at the time? I think it goes back to actors who don’t fit their parts; a lot of people in this just seemed wrong in a western. And having Sheb Wooley, who was in a small way part of the history of the genre, just highlighted the problem. Only Scott Glenn and Danny Glover look really at home here. Even in 1985 it was clear that Jeff Goldblum was Goldbluming, and Brian Dennehy, who was consistently great through the whole of the ’80s, still comes across as if he’d rather be playing a corrupt city cop. Costner grew into his westerns, and respect to him for persisting with them, but here he’s just cosplaying a cowboy.

    Sorry. To be clear, I like SILVERADO, but with Randolph Scott, or Audie Murphy, or Ben Johnson, or Brian Keith, I suspect I’d’ve liked it more. I hope that isn’t just dumb nostalgia on my part.

  28. I had a similar feeling in the 80s. With that many actors from THE BIG CHILL I got a yuppie feeling from the movie that it (maybe) didn’t deserve. But it has grown on me. I’m surprised nobody mentions Jeff Fahey and Richard Jenkins, who turned up for the first time here. They made an impression on me back then.

  29. Yeah, if anyone from THE BIG CHILL was gonna look right in this, it would’ve been Tom Berenger, but maybe it was too soon after BUTCH AND SUNDANCE: THE EARLY DAYS.

  30. As an aside, I noticed that the first trailer for THE SISTERS BROTHERS dropped yesterday:

    Rarely have I read a book that was so desperate to be a movie. John C. Reilly produces and stars, and he surely must work in a western. But it’s written and directed by Jacques Audiard, who, as I noted in talkback about YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE, doesn’t seem interested in action. That could be OK here, as the action is really just violence, but the book is blackly comic, and I also don’t have any sense from A PROPHET, RUST AND BONE, or DHEEPAN that Audiard does funny. I will hope to be pleasantly surprised, but the combination of award-winning book and award-winning director gives me a bad feeling about this.

    Interesting, though, that when non-American’s go west they still want to make westerns. I still wish John Woo’s western with Nicolas Cage had happened.

  31. That’s “non-Americans go west”.

  32. I watched this one again last night and it is still great. I think my favorite thing is the charming courtship between Cline and Hunt. There’s a straightforward lay-your-cards-on-the-table quality to their scenes together that reminds me of Elmore Leonard’s approach to romance. And the look on her face when she realizes that he means what she thinks he means but she’s not gonna let that make her act like a lovesick fool is just adorable.

    Put me in the pro-Goldblum and Dennehy camp. For my money, few actors have done genial menace better than Dennehy, who’s so consistently good that he tends to get taken for granted. And Goldblum, by dint of his Goldbluminess, actually makes Slick’s heel turn surprising. He’s so goofy and charming that you never suspect he’ll throw in with the assholes. You figure he’ll be the fifth guy on the team by the end. But hey, he’s a gambler, and a gambler knows the house always wins eventually. He took the side he thought would pay out and lost big.

    P.S.

    To Sternshein: I’m gonna be the guy Carly Simon didn’t write that song about and assume you’re talking about me. First of all, thank you for the compliment on my writing. Second, I sympathize. I really do. You guys get me pretty raw and uncut here. It’s a matter of trust. I trust you assholes, so, unfortunately for you, that means you very much get Peak Majestyk, straight no chase. I hope most of you find that entertaining most of the time, but either way, you didn’t sign on for that. If my constant state of intensity irritates any of you, I am truly sorry. I got a whirlwind in me I can’t always lasso.

    If I may be so bold, please allow me to share a story that might explain some things. An origin story, if you will. I learned how to type when I was six years old on an antique manual typewriter. It weighed about 60 pounds (probably more than I did) and I had to really bang on the keys to make them work. That’s still how I type to this day. I am murder on a computer keyboard. I write HARD. But I assure you, it’s all sound and fury. I’m going for maximum impact, so I bring everything I’ve got in the toolkit to the table. Sometimes I go too far. EDIT: A LOT of times I go too far. But if you could hear the tone I’m usually hearing in my head, you’d see I’m going for more “tongue-in-cheek curmudgeon” than “arbiter of all that is good and right in this world.” I’m Lewis Black, not Rush Limbaugh. If that doesn’t come off, that’s 100% on me. Writing is about communicating, and failure to communicate is a failure on my part. Believe it or not, everything I say, even the exhausting stuff, was intended to entertain. I’m not trying to hurt anyone or cause stress. I sometimes don’t know my own strength. While it can be fun to write a bunch of mean, vicious shit just to get a reaction, I really don’t like using my powers for evil. It’s too easy to succumb to the Dark Side.

    So, Sternshein and anyone else who I annoy, which is probably a lot of you, here’s my advice: Try to take me with a grain of salt. Whatever volume you’re imagining my rants at, turn them down about 40%. That’s probably where I’m trying to pitch them at. If even then I still come off like a smug prick, well, there’s nothing I can do about that but apologize and thank you for putting up with me. It really does mean a lot to be accepted here, warts and all.

    And if you weren’t talking about me, Sternshein, let me just say this: Wow, what a smug asshole that other guy is, huh?

  33. grimgrinningchris

    May 25th, 2018 at 11:46 am

    I don’t want to talk about SOLO much til Vern (hopefully) posts a review this weekend.

    But my screening wasn’t noticeably dark, except where it appeared intentional in y’know… dark places. I was 2-D
    Also, my 7PM was totally packed, if not sold out. Whole theater applauded at the end- which is still a rarity- though it does seem to happen with SW movies more than any others combined…

    I’ve actually never seen Silverado- but will have to now on the strength of this review.

    Westerns are not something I have an active affinity for. I like the ones I like, but I would never call myself “a fan of westerns”.
    Obviously all the Clint joints are great. And I love The Quick And The Dead, Tombstone, True Grit (Bridges, not Wayne… I just can’t stomach John Wayne), In A Valley Of Violence and a couple others… but that is really it. I think I like western themes and tropes projected onto other genres more than traditional westerns themselves. Though that trailer for The Sisters Brothers played before SOLO last night and I’ve GOTTA see that one…

  34. Majestyk, I love you just the way you are!

  35. Republican Cloth Coat

    May 25th, 2018 at 2:26 pm

    While we’re talking Westerns, I just saw Open Range (2003) with Robert Duvall, Costner, Michael Gambon and Annette Bening. It’s solid with a nice contemporary treatment of PTSD but it isn’t quite revisionist. Costner is only a kid in relation to Duvall. Vern hasn’t reviewed it yet.

  36. Mr. M: Damn, talk about a prequel just ruining a character!!

  37. Were you guys aware that since Solo didn’t open at over 200 million dollars that the shine is off Star Wars and they’re all going to be failures from now on?

  38. I remember two things about Silverado. Please remember this was the pre-Internet age.

    I caught part of a music video on “Night Flight” but I was distracted and wasn’t sure what was going on. It was a Queen song to be sure, sounded awesome, had sword fighting in it, and I remember somebody saying it was part of a movie soundtrack. I was sure that it was from Silverado for some reason even though that made no sense (western/sword fighting?). But in the record store (!) the Silverado soundtrack had no mention of a Queen song and no one I spoke to knew what I was talking about. I remained confused for far too long until by chance I watched Highlander and realized what had happened (in the unlikely event that a reader of this websight has not seen Highlander part of the climactic sword fight takes place on a NYC rooftop in front of a big sign that reads “Silvercup”).

    The other thing I remember is Scott Glenn’s character cracking up when he gets the news “Jake fell off his horse” and repeats it multiple times. This seemed like a big deal in the movie but I didn’t get it at the time, I’ll watch it again I guess and see if it makes more sense now.

  39. I like that story. I can definitely imagine mixing up the title SILVERADO with any other movie when I was young. It could mean anything.

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