Emmett (Scott Glenn) awakens in the shack he is hiding out in to the sound of gunfire and immediately grabs his weapon. The shooting continues, peppering the wooden walls with holes, but he is canny enough to work out where his assailants are and manages to fell each of them. He decides that this is not the best place for him to be and making sure the coast is clear he ventures outside, mounts his horse and sets off for Silverado, where he can be sure of good rest and comfort. But along the way he encoutners a man lying half-dead in the desert: he is Paden (Kevin Kline) and Emmett is about to save his life...
This quirkily-cast would-be blockbuster failed to reinvigorate the western genre when it was released, but like many westerns after the seventies it did go on to cult status where it was welcomed with open arms by fans appreciative of the manner in which director Lawrence Kasdan and his team paid tribute. Kasdan scripted with his brother Mark, and archetypes were the order of the day; yes, there were idiosyncrasies, but they were patently working to the mould of the classic movies of yesteryear. Perhaps if this had taken off then we would have had a flood of such things, following the film's lead.
There are four main heroes riding in to save the day, but the film takes its time in bringing them together. Glenn and Kline meet in the first ten minutes, with Paden left for dead by his attackers in just his underwear, but once they reach the nearest town he catches sight of a man on his stolen horse. An amusing scene follows where he has to use the money he borrowed from Emmett to buy a gun and ammunition, then rush outside to get back what is his before the miscreant rides off. The film is full of cute sequences like that, guaranteed to prompt a wry smile from adherents of the form, but too often it means the work as a whole feels episodic, as if the Kasdans made a list of what they wanted to include and then had trouble patching them together.
But there is that great cast to paper over the cracks, which they do to some extent. Notable in eccentric appearances are the likes of John Cleese as a seemingly reasonable but actually hardliner sheriff who runs the town where Emmett and Paden meet the two other heroes, Mal (Danny Glover) and Jake (and exuberant Kevin Costner), but he is not the real villain. That mantle belongs to Brian Dennehy's Sheriff Cobb, an old friend of Paden's who brings a jovial menace to what could have been yet another cliché (and there are clichés here, make no mistake). He also brings out the theme of men of violence putting their pasts behind them, as Paden is trying to do, and as Cobb is not entirely doing.
So iconic does the film attempt to be that at times it sounds as if the dialogue was chiseled into stone tablets for the actors to read off. Listen to the terrible speech Rosanna Arquette gets to speak for this style at its worst, but on the other hand it is something than can be effective elsewhere for building up the sense of majesty and how much the good guys have at stake. Our four gunslingers have the good and honest homesteaders to save, and Cobb means to stop them, so as you might expect the gunfights come thick and fast. The characters, well, most of them, have enough to make them stand out whether it's Linda Hunt's wise bar owner or Jeff Goldblum's self-posesessed and untrustworthy gambler, and in the end it is they who make Silverado a qualified success. It is too self-conscious to really stand on its own, but its heart was in the right place even as it indulged itself. Music by Bruce Broughton.
American writer and director with a gift for sharp, crowd-pleasing scriptwriting. Made his debut as a writer/director with the modern noir hit Body Heat in 1981, and turned in deft screenplays for blockbusters Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. His other most notable films as director are The Big Chill and The Accidental Tourist, while Silverado and Wyatt Earp were flawed but admirable attempts to bring the western back into fashion.