By 1985, the movie 'western' was a genre long dormant, with film critics quick to point out that audiences had become far too 'sophisticated' for old-fashioned "shoot-'em-ups". Two film makers decided to test the waters, however; Clint Eastwood, reviving an older version of his "Man with No Name", directed and starred in his SHANE homage, PALE RIDER; and Lawrence Kasdan, fresh from the huge success of THE BIG CHILL, fulfilled his life-long dream to make a western, with SILVERADO. Neither film was successful at the box office, and pundits predicted they would soon be forgotten...but a new force in the movie industry was emerging, video rentals, and SILVERADO, with it's spectacular action sequences, charismatic heroes, and sweeping, unforgettable music score (by Bruce Broughton), was an unexpected and overwhelming hit, drawing Hollywood's attention to the new market, and lifting the film to the near-classic cult status it enjoys today.
While PALE RIDER would focus on Clint Eastwood's continuing demythologizing of the West (which would culminate in 1992's UNFORGIVEN), SILVERADO embraces all the 'classic' Western clichés, serving them up with such exuberance that they seem 'fresh'. The story of four likable 'shootists' of nearly superhuman skills, bonding, and ultimately taking on a corrupt sheriff and his brutal gang of deputies in the town of Silverado, trots out one traditional element after another, from the classic 'bushwhack' (with a John Ford 'Doorway Framing' homage shot) to the 'pretty widow' in a wagon train; from the 'saloonkeeper with a heart of gold' to the 'crooked gambler with a concealed weapon'...and even climaxes with that most traditional of finales, as two ex-partners face off on a dusty street in an old-fashioned Western shootout.
The four leads couldn't have been cast more perfectly; Scott Glenn channels Gary Cooper as a laconic cowboy fresh from an undeserved 5-year prison stretch; Kevin Kline exudes his signature charm as an ex-gang member whose life changed because of "a dog"; Danny Glover is warm and reassuring as a man moving west from Chicago to help his family, armed with a legendary Henry rifle; and, best of all, young Kevin Costner, in his breakout performance, is irresistible, wild and acrobatic, as Glenn's ever-optimistic, carefree younger brother, a part Kasdan wrote specifically for the actor, after his scenes were cut from THE BIG CHILL.
The supporting cast is equally superb, with standout performances by giant Brian Dennehy, John Cleese (as a sheriff who knows 'where' his jurisdiction ends), Jeff Goldblum, Linda Hunt, James Gammon ("You led a posse to my best hide-out??"), Jeff Fahey, and, in a wonderful if brief role, breathtaking Rosanna Arquette, as the widow courted by both Kline and Glenn. With a cast THIS good, it is remarkable that the film had to 'go to video' to achieve success!
The final line of SILVERADO, "We'll be back!", shouted by Costner as he and Glenn ride 'into the sunset', has had countless fans wishing that a follow-up movie had been made (a 1999 nationwide video poll chose SILVERADO as the film "Most Deserving of a Sequel"), but time has, sadly, eliminated that possibility. The film that 'failed' when released, in a genre that 'experts' considered passé, is, after nearly 20 years, still winning new fans.
As Kevin Kline and Linda Hunt say, as a toast: "Here's to the good stuff...May it last a long time!"
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