Silverado – a modestly successful western – has an interesting Hollywood story attached to it. As the story goes Lawrence Kasdan, who also directed The Big Chill, had left Kevin Costner’s small role in The Big Chill on the cutting room floor. To make up for the ignominy of having only had his suit and hands shown in one of the biggest movies of the decade Kasdan offered Costner a supporting role in Silverado. The deal worked out for both Kasdan and Costner. Kevin Costner delivers an exceptional performance in movie where brilliant performances are par for the course.
The all star cast of Silverado is the first indication that the movie could go either way in terms of success. Scott Glenn as Emmett, Kevin Costner as Jake, Brian Dennehy as Sheriff Cobb, Linda Hunt as Stella, Jeff Goldblum as 'Slick' Calvin Stanhope, Kevin Kline as Paden, Danny Glover as Malachi 'Mal' Johnson, Rosanna Arquette as Hannah and John Cleese as Sheriff John T. Langston make for an ensemble that under a less certain directorial hand could have gone badly awry. As it is the movie holds together as a fast paced western albeit with some problems in the narrative.
The bulk of the story is good and straightforward starting with a bang as Emmett is woken out of a sound sleep by gunfire. The audience is witness to a brilliant opening scene with Emmett moving around a one room shack avoiding the hail of bullets coming from all four walls and even the roof. Emmett is such a good gun that he kills is assailants without ever having to lay eyes on them. There is nothing in the gunfight that is incredulous in a western movie sense – no more incredulous than the great gun battle in True Grit for instance – but the gunplay is only a small feature of the film. The startling start to the movie is added to by one of the more unorthodox introductions of a lead character in movie history when Emmett comes across Paden who is lying in the desert in his underwear using a rock as a pillow waiting to die. This quirky beginning characterizes both the character of Paden and the character of the movie which frequently depends on quirkiness to carry a story that has some big holes in it.
The biggest problem with Silverado is the excess of characters. Jeff Goldblum’s Slick is plays an itinerant gambler who seemingly has no role in the movie other than to be a gambler with no moral compass. Rosanna Arquette (Hannah) is well cast as an attractive homesteader who seems to attract the attention of both Emmett and Paden but despite some dialogue near the end of the movie which seems to indicate that something had developed between Emmett and Hannah but the audience was not privy to any of it. These little sidelines are not much distraction when it comes to the mainline of the story which is essentially Ranchers VS Homesteaders with the ranchers having complete ownership of the town and the marshal on their side. This is a good movie when you keep in mind that it was the first real western to come out of Hollywood in a very long time that was a big budget effort but it has enough holes that you need to be a generous viewer when you watch it. This movie will never make it into the category of a western classic.