Film appreciation: Silverado - traditional Western, but not stereotypical

Gloriously shot, Silverado is full of characters we care about thanks to its fine cast, which includes British comic actor John Cleese playing (straight) a sheriff, and a carefree Kevin Costner

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 July, 2015, 10:52pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 July, 2015, 10:52pm

"He can't hurt me if he's dead," actress Linda Hunt says as saloon owner Stella in the glorious Western Silverado.

She's referring to the dirty sheriff Cobb (Brian Dennehy). It's perhaps the best line in the film, but there are plenty of good lines in a script that makes you care about the men who lose their land to a dirty ranch owner, or the gun-toting brothers Emmett (Scott Glenn) and Jake (Kevin Costner). They're on their way to California, but have to shoot a lot of cowboys along the way.

Silverado, produced and directed by Lawrence Kasdan, goes back to the traditional Western of old. It starts off with Emmett having to shoot his way out of a hut when he's assailed by a trio of baddies. When he opens the door we see a fabulous view of canyons and mountains, just the start of John Bailey's glorious cinematography. Riding on, he comes across Paden (Kevin Kline), parched and left for dead in just his underwear. Cue another great line. "They just jumped you out of the blue?" Paden asks Emmett of that morning's ambush. "I had to get up anyway," says Emmett.

The cast does a fine job of making us care about the characters in what could easily slide into Western stereotypes. The storylines aren't new, but the viewing's such a pleasure that you probably won't care. The horses take us across deserts, snow-capped mountains, ranch land and to small wooden townships in the middle of nowhere.

There is a great ensemble cast that includes Danny Glover as cowboy Mal, who gets run out of town by a sheriff played by John Cleese, after Mal is refused service for being black. Yes, Cleese in a straight part, as the sheriff trying to keep a town clean but with a British accent. "I'm not from these parts," he says. And you still stifle a grin.

The orchestra is kept busy, particularly the French horns, for the big scenes, then there's a bit of piano tinkling for the saloons. Kline, having regained a few clothes, wanders into a saloon and recognises a prized possession. "You're wearing my hat," he tells a card player, "what else have you got of mine?" And another one goes down, instead of returning the hat.

Silverado earned Academy Award nominations for best sound and best original score.

Like most conventional Westerns, none of the leads die despite an inordinate amount of bullets flying.

Costner shines as careless, carefree Jake, a young man full of excess energy who's a bit irritating. The gunfights are great, on foot and horseback, and best of all, Kasdan doesn't forget the tumbleweed rolling down silent, abandoned streets in the last showdown between Paden and Cobb.

Silverado Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Rosanna Arquette Director: Lawrence Kasdan