Brothers Scott Glenn and Kevin Costner attempt to reunite with their sister, along the way befriending left-for-dead Kevin Kline and a begrudged Danny Glover all of whom share the same goal of making their way to the town of Silverado.
The great thing about Silverado is it’s clear you can see that director/writer Lawrence Kasdan has a firm understanding of the Western genre. The plot developing around chance encounters from four anti-heroes, in what appears initially perhaps a clichéd box ticker of a film is in fact almost a reinvention of the genre (especially in context of the year released), emerging before films such as The Quick and The Dead (released a year later) and Tombstone that too moved away from the older traditional Westerns. Silverado brings a new approach and a fresh spin on the Western formula before these other landmark films had even emerged.
The film’s strength lies in its use and understanding of that formula and the development of the characters within it. Every role within the film gives you a sense of motivation and personality regardless of how much screen time they are given. Every character from protagonist anti-hero Emmett (Glenn) the sharpshooter with a past, to the more reserved use of its stock characters such as a crooked Jeff Goldblum as an opportunistic gambler and entrepreneur and even a nice John Cleese cameo as a sheriff in a smaller town are all so well rounded they feel like they could live independently within this world. This attention to detail enables the film to move through typical Western themes such as the town with corrupt sheriff and even a wagon trail ambushed by bandits with all the grace of any great Western but without becoming clichéd. Instead of making its way from gunfight to gunfight using macho attitudes and weak female characters it pulls focus onto the intersecting flawed characters opening up early weaknesses as well as strengths and humanisms to what would usually seem invincible characters giving an overall vigour to the film.
The casting really opens up each these roles too; most notable Costner’s portrayal of Jake, a wild and exuberant young man who is undeniably good with a gun. The energy and charisma he brings to the role is a far cry from his later Western roles, giving diversity to the archetypes within the film. Each character moves away from the obvious choice and as a result brings extra depth and dimension to the plot and I would say this is really where the film shines. As a result the sub plots that move throughout the film are all tied up and don’t feel like they are there for just padding, adding depth and detail to allow the audience to empathise with the various situations whilst adding a realism that is lost in many earlier Westerns.
The plot builds to the obvious genre conclusion of a town gunfight against the corrupt sheriff and his men where the four heroes stand together due to their common goals. But it should be noted that despite the villains' obvious undertones as corrupt they actually seem to run the town quite well and try to protect the setup they have there. It’s the unfair treatment of the main characters that breaks the peace in an otherwise peaceful town and opens up the bulk of the conflict (another of Kasdan’s little touches that draws you into the lives of these men whilst opening up the wider scope of the film).
As far as Westerns go this wouldn’t look out of place nowadays on a Sunday afternoon matinée. If it falls down anywhere it perhaps doesn’t have some of the energy of other small town under scrutiny Westerns and although playing with the regular conventions of the genre still uses them heavily and doesn’t quite leave you with the impact or message perhaps it could. But it is undeniably one to watch especially for fans of the genre and looks great in crisp Blu-ray detail. A good solid Western.
EXTRAS ** The extras are fairly standard but enough to add nicely to the whole package. True fans of the film may like the revisit from Costner (A return to Silverado) and the historian’s commentary (along the Silverado trail), as well as a making of documentary and a BD-Live feature that accesses information as you watch. It’s a nice package that offers enough to further justify the purchase.