Danny Glover, Scott Glenn, Kevin Costner and Kevin Kline star in Lawrence Kasdan's 1985 western.
Arriving smack dab in the middle of the 1980s, Silverado — available for streaming on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play and Vudu — did its darnedest to keep the western alive at a time when the genre appeared headed for the last round-up. And now, more than three decades later, it still aims to please as an old-fashioned, crowd-pleasing horse opera that shoots straight, rides tall, and moves quicker than a cowboy galloping off to the chuck wagon. No doubt about it: Director Lawrence Kasdan's perfectly cast, action-packed romp is an unpretentious, unadulterated delight blessed with just enough high-spirited humor.
In tone and detail, the movie recalls the better Technicolor westerns turned out by Paramount during the '50s and '60s. Movies such as Rio Bravo and El Dorado come immediately to mind as Kasdan assembles a motley but honorable group of heroes: Emmett (Scott Glenn), a lean and leathery gunfighter who can polish off three ambushers before breakfast; Paden (Kevin Kline), an ex-outlaw often burdened by his rogue streak of decency; Mal (Danny Glover), a slow-burning black man who won't take much guff from Wild West rednecks; and Jake (Kevin Costner), Emmett's rambunctious brother, a skirt-chasing firebrand who draws guns and makes passes with the same exuberant gusto.
The four misfits are thrown together by chance, stay together by choice during their escape from a posse, and reunite in the boomtown of Silverado — where they lock horns with a ruthless land baron and his paid-off sheriff. The pace quickens as the plot thickens, but Kasdan and his brother, co-scriptwriter Mark Kasdan, always allow enough time for character development and idiosyncratic touches.
Among the more intriguing plot twists: Paden, determined to remain detached, nonetheless finds himself drawn toward Stella, a diminutive bar hostess gracefully played by Linda Hunt. The relationship, though purely platonic, is subtly but unmistakably charged with erotic tension. (My favorite moment comes when Hunt, suddenly realizing Kline's regard for her, silently registers surprise, then amusement. The smile that flickers across her lips is a beautiful sight.) Another director, in another movie, might have overplayed his hand here, or — worse still — given the relationship a kinky edge. Kasdan plays it nonchalantly, as he does during much of Silverado, treating his audience like grown-ups who can understand something without being pounded over the head with it.
Kasdan's intelligence and restraint serve Silverado well. Rather than attempting some sort of hip homage to familiar western clichés, he treats every facet of his movie — yes, even the moldiest of clichés — as something newly minted and freshly served. There's no self-conscious evoking of myths, no smirking nudges in the ribs. When Kline and the crooked sheriff — robustly played by Brian Dennehy — square off for a final shoot-out, Kasdan pulls out all the stops; there's even a dust storm blowing tumbleweeds down the near-deserted street to provide a dramatic backdrop. Yet, even if you smile at the scene, you don't laugh. Kasdan plays it perfectly straight — and damned if it isn't suspenseful.
John Bailey's cinematography is occasionally too dark for comfort, but the strong ensemble cast is as good as the group Kasdan assembled back in 1982 for The Big Chill. True, Rosanna Arquette has too little to do as a spunky farmwife, and Jeff Goldblum has even less as a snaky card shark. But their contributions, though brief, are welcome. John Cleese of Monty Python fame has an amusing cameo bit as a stiff-backed lawman who finds racial epithets distasteful. And Ray Baker, though not quite intimidating enough, snarls effectively as the greedy land baron.
Glenn is authoritatively stoic and heroic as Emmett. (When he rips off a bandage, straps on his guns and rides off after the bad guys, you can't help but cheer.) Costner — a relative newcomer when Silverado first hit the silver screen — gives an ingratiating performance that marked him for even bigger and better things. Glover hits the right balance of proud self-assurance and impulsive compassion. And Kline, obviously relishing the film's best-written role, plays Paden as a sensitive, sensible man who only wants to be left in peace. Cross one of his friends, though, and you're in big, big trouble.