The Western has a long and storied history in American cinema. Though the height of its popularity may have been decades ago, every few years a new one seems to still hit the big screen or be produced as a television miniseries. These more recent looks at the Old West may feature different takes than classic Westerns, but when done right they still make audiences want to saddle up and right off into the sunset. One of these latter day westerns, Silverado, is now making its way to Blu-ray.
The film features an all-star cast including Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Brian Dennehy, Linda Hunt, Danny Glover, Jeff Goldblum, John Cleese, Kevin Costner, and Rosanna Arquette. It also features classic Western characters – law & order sheriffs, evil sheriffs, villainous cattle barons, gunslingers, men with pasts, and families just looking to carve out a new life for themselves in the wide open country.
The basic story revolves around four men — Paden (Kline); Emmett (Glenn); his brother, Jake (Costner); and Mal (Glover) — who, for various reasons, are on their way to the town of Silverado. Though they're all looking for something different, they end up finding their paths crossing as they decide to battle a dirty lawman, Cobb (Brian Dennehy); his band of deputies; and cattle baron, McKendrick (Ray Baker) who, even though he already has a lot, needs more.
Directed and written by Lawrence Kasdan (Mark Kasdan also co-wrote the screenplay), the film is quite careful to give backstories to all these men. The good guys are going up against foes from the past, Cobb and Paden used to be outlaws together and Emmett killed McKendrick's father, and writing current, personal wrongs, McKendrick stole Mal's father's land and has the old man murdered.
Silverado is most notable however, not for its plot, but for the superb characters in it, a combination of the Kasdans' writing and the actors in the roles. The best performance is given by the lead in the film, Kline. His Paden more often than not remains relaxed and funny, even when left in the desert to die with nothing but his union suit. Though Paden does crack some jokes, Kline is able to convey the character's wit mainly through looks and the way he carries himself. Paden is, unquestionably, a killer and one-time thief, but he's also a man with a conscience and a deep-seated sense of right and wrong. Kline is able to make Paden not only likable and amiable, but more than a little scary as well.
Truly, almost all the performances by the leads are notable. The biggest disappointment among them is that Goldblum and Cleese aren't given more to do in the script. The characters they play – Goldblum a gambler and Cleese a law & order sheriff – have a lot going on, but the audience is never made fully aware of it as the film spends little time with them.
Perhaps that's because the film is simply populated with too many people, or perhaps its because being a Western, Kasdan does spend a fair amount of time with gunplay. Silverado sports some excellent shootouts and a classic one-on-one duel on a suddenly abandoned street with tumbleweeds blowing through.
On Blu-ray, the film sounds absolutely fantastic, bullets whiz by one's ears, horses gallop beautifully, and the dialogue is clean. The video aspects of the release aren't quite as good, there isn't as much detail as one would hope for, the blacks do tend to blend together, and there is a noticeable amount of grain and the occasional bit of noise in the print.
In terms of extras, the release contains two featurettes on the making of the film, one centered on the recollections of Kevin Costner. There is also a booklet which features info on the film, stars, and looks at some promotional posters and a commentary track with two historians discussing the Silverado's place in both filmic and real history. Lastly, the Blu-ray contains the new movieIQ feature which connects to the internet and allows viewers to see facts about the filming and stars as the film plays.
Anyone who likes Westerns has their personal favorite in the genre, and it is such a big genre (with plenty of sub-genres) that to declare something "the best" in the genre is impossible. Even if I thought I could, I don't think I would say Silverado is "the best" Western. It is, however, a great one that both understands and plays off of many of the genres tropes. It is fun, it is exciting, it has great well-acted great characters, and enough gunplay to satisfy any viewer.