The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Thursday, February 26, 2015


By the 1980s, the western genre had unfortunately gone by the wayside. The often white-washed entries of the 1950s, the spaghetti westerns of the 1960s and the revisionist westerns of the 1970s had done a number on fans, and the genre was never quite the same. I'm still not sure why dammit! Maybe I was meant to grow up during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s! After the 70s, the western became few and far between, like 1985's Silverado, a throwback western I've seen bits and pieces of but only saw all the way through...well, this time.

Having served a five-year jail sentence for a murder that was actually self-defense, a drifter named Emmett (Scott Glenn) is riding west with California as his ultimate destination. Riding deep into the desert, Emmett finds something his eyes just don't believe. Lying in long underwear in the sand is a man named Paden (Kevin Kline) who tells the story of how he was double-crossed and left to die with no water or supplies. The two pair up and keep on heading west, both with their own objectives. What awaits them? First, they'll find out Emmett's younger brother, Jake (Kevin Costner), is about to be hung for a murder that sounds fishy while also running into a man, Mal (Danny Glover), heading west to help his family run their small homestead and ranch. The trail ahead won't be easy though as a corrupt rancher and his equally corrupt sheriff are wreaking havoc on the town of Silverado, the town they're all heading to.

I caught the first 45 minutes of this 1985 western a few years back. I liked it, didn't love it, but never got back to it. Well, Encore Westerns tempted me once too often with it on its schedule. My biggest takeaway? Director Lawrence Kasdan (who also wrote the screenplay with his brother, Mark) loves westerns. LOVES them. He must have grown up watching countless westerns because in the same way Indiana Jones and Star Wars did, 'Silverado' plays like a tribute film to its genre predecessors while also creating its own identity. I guess it makes sense because Kasdan wrote Raiders, Empire and Jedi. Go figure! It feels familiar -- in a good way -- and the lines are blurred some, but from the start things are pretty clear. The good guys are good and the bad guys are corrupt, greedy and evil. Entertaining in the best kind of way.

What I remember struggling with was the almost complete lack of a story. There are characters. There are some vignettes here and there. But a linear story? No, not really. We meet a ton of characters, things are kinda laid out, and then eventually, the good guys face off against those dastardly bad guys. It can be frustrating, but the payoff is worth it. Just know that getting there can be a tad slow in a 133-minute flick.

If you've seen Kasdan's writing credits -- read it HERE -- it's clear he's at his strongest with ensembles, typically tough guy ensembles. That is the biggest strength here in 'Silverado,' specifically with his four main heroes, Kline, Glenn, Glover and Costner. These are archetypal western characters, and they don't disappoint. Kline's Paden is the former gunslinger with a checkered past, Glenn's Emmett the amiable but tough as nails drifter, Costner's Jake the fun-loving, hard-living, cocky youngster, and Glover's Mal the ice water in his veins rifleman and family man. Kline doesn't scream 'wild west gunfighter,' but he's the coolest character. Glenn and Glover are similarly strong with Costner the only relative weak link in the bunch. It's not his fault, but the character is just a bit too goofy. Still, the strength is in the group. By the time you see the gun-slinging quartet ride to the final showdown, you're fully on their side.

Who else to look for? Let's talk baddies. Brian Dennehy is Sheriff Cobb, an imposing, brutish man who used to ride with Paden and is now working with a local rancher to buy up all the land around the town. Jeff Fahey is solid as his enforcer of sorts, Tyree. Jeff Goldblum has some fun as Slick, a gambler who arrives in Silverado looking for some easy cash. I thought the best supporting part was Linda Hunt (later of NCIS: LA) as Stella, the diminutive but feisty owner of the Silverado saloon. And in the out of left field department, John Cleese plays a sheriff in another town who comes across our heroes' trail. Also look for Rosanna Arquette, James Gammon and Lynn Whitfield in other supporting roles. If there's a weakness in the cast, it's that beyond Dennehy the villains aren't developed much or even on-screen. The evil rancher is almost an afterthought. The depth of the cast is still very impressive.

So westerns, they like their guns. 'Silverado' is a movie for those with a gun fetish. Scene after scene bring these guns to life from the hard, metallic click of the Henry rifle being loaded to a six-shooter being cocked and fired. The guns end up becoming additional characters. The action is pretty violent but never overly graphic. In the throwback fashion, it's good, old-fashioned, rip-roaring action. A rare "cold" western with snow and the mountains instead of the dusty prairies, this is a western that truly appreciates the genre it's come from. An Oscar-nominated musical score (little too adoring at times), a fun cast, fun vignettes and entertaining throughout. One of those perfect 3-star movies, best watched with a big tub of popcorn.

Silverado (1985): ***/****

1 comment:

  1. I'd give this baby four stars. Other than a very slow midsection and Linda Hunt way too much, taking away from Kevin Kline and Dennehy's story, I really think they made a "tour de force" of Westerns here.