**/**** Image B+ Sound B Extras A-
starring Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Rosanna Arquette, John Cleese
screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan & Mark Kasdan
directed by Lawrence Kasdan
by Walter Chaw Lawrence Kasdan's Silverado is a quintessential film of the 1980s, boasting that odd combination of slick production values and musty Eisenhower-era morality. It's also exactly the western you'd expect from that product of the Eighties, Kasdan, screenwriter of milestones like Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Empire Strikes Back and writer-director of classics in adult contemporary ensemble mawkishness like The Big Chill and Grand Canyon. Kasdan should be considered historically as one of the film brats, a peer to guys like Spielberg who never quite developed enough muscle to allow movies to break their heart--fashioning from the medium an endless, deadening succession of handsome, movie-loving movies that consistently betray themselves with bullshit Hollywood endings brought home in triumphal swathes of swollen violins.
See Silverado, then, for what it is: a long, sloppy blowjob for the western that resurrects all the hoary old tropes and lovingly sets them on the mantle to gather dust again almost immediately. It's so lockstep, so without snark or self-knowledge, so disinterested in subverting the formula, that by the end it's really just an anachronism. Called "revisionist" upon release in a bizarre misuse of the term, Silverado is neither something new nor something paying homage but rather a hollow facsimile lacking the rough grace of a Budd Boetticher, the dark undercurrent of an Anthony Mann, or the stink of macho bonhomie of a Howard Hawks or a John Ford, to name a few. It is exactly what it appears to be: the western equivalent of Gus Van Sant's Psycho experiment. The notes are there, but it doesn't have any music in its soul. The film is the product of a dilettante instead of a scholar--a fan, not an artist--and serves as something of a smoking gun in regards to the relative merits of Kasdan's oeuvre. Even with all its sex and young Mickey Rourke, its hot Kathleen Turner and skeevy William Hurt, Body Heat, his first and best film as a hyphenate, is, on further review, the safe, pre-masticated version of invigorating, ugly pictures like Detour or Night and the City or Out of the Past. Kasdan is pot: a mellow, soporific gateway drug that only hints at the serious stuff.
Emmett (Scott Glenn) is a tortured old hermit called out of his oubliette by what seems an unprovoked attack from a band of ruffians that has also, it appears, robbed ex-merc Paden (Kevin Kline) and left him to die in the desert, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly-style. Teaming up, they meet up with noble black guy Malachi (Danny Glover, too old for this shit)--who just can't stand the injustice of the world--and endeavour to break Emmett's crazy brother Jake (Kevin Costner) out of jail. Once assembled, this misfit crew of archetypes joins forces to oust the evil British sheriff (John Cleese) and his reprehensible cronies from the bucolic frontier Eden of Silverado. The actors are good, the screenplay completely workmanlike; at the end of the day, it's less a western than it is one of Kasdan's ensemble dramadies long on interpersonal tensions and short on anything else. It's not about Westward expansion, the ironic romance of the rail, the struggles of frontiersmen, the birth of this nation--it's about boys being boys and girls swooning.
It's every other Kasdan picture, in other words, and the shootouts are rip-offs of better shootouts--just as the plot is straight out of the Great Big Book of Western Masterplots. Any attempts to read more into the film are doomed to failure, of course, though it's interesting to view it as a contemporary of a movie that actually succeeds in transplanting Eisenhower attitudes into a trenchant social satire: Back to the Future. (Ironically, the second sequel to Back to the Future would venture onto Silverado's turf in a more literal fashion.) What Silverado is is a leisurely throwback to those lightweight westerns that filled double-bills on lazy Saturday afternoons, which Costner calls "a big fat piece of entertainment." In even-layer-man's terms, that means "dumb and mostly harmless."
THE BLU-RAY DISC
Silverado docks on Blu-ray from Sony in a slightly crushy, slightly noisy, definitely uneven 2.40:1, 1080p transfer that's incredibly detailed but doesn't always seem to come by its sharpness naturally. The film was an early Super35 production, perhaps necessitating an aggressive amount of DVNR to keep grain from overwhelming the image and, in turn, requiring edge-enhancement to balance things out. Still, it looks suitably filmlike. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio is limited only by a non-action director's idea of a soundmix: it's a quiet thing that honours the dialogue-heavy nature of the piece, although at times the bombastic score overwhelms it; the shootouts are disappointingly tame.
With the appropriate hardware, one can access MovieIQ from GraceNote, which will allow for pop-up production information, filmographies, trivia, etc. pertaining to the film in question--a vaguely promising feature that's more trouble than it's worth, ultimately. Vastly preferable is a commentary track with genre historians Frank Thompson, Paul Hutton, and Steven Aaron, who discuss Silverado in terms of contemporary sociology and veracity. They speak of Kasdan's attempts to create the Last Classic Western and judge it as inferior in comparison to a passel of films from the '60s and '70s, a few of which I'd never heard of before. Invaluable for its scholarship and insight, this yakker trainspots the many shots the film borrowed and examines how Kasdan may have failed on several fronts by miscasting these celebrated actors. Brilliant. By itself, it merits a purchase; by itself, it makes the case that only critics and historians should be doing commentaries. What you have to love about this track is that it's unabashedly critical of the picture's shortcomings--its lack of a strong female character, its weird editing, its weird camera set-ups, and so on. Bliss.
"A Return to Silverado with Kevin Costner" (22 mins., SD) is a big fat piece of entertainment wherein early-'90s demigod Costner reminisces about the movie that put him on the map and recalls that it was How the West Was Won that got him hard for the genre as a young man. Still, the piece is essentially a hagiography for a film that isn't very good, though I did enjoy listening to Costner recount how he got edited out of Kasdan's The Big Chill and how much he enjoyed that shoot despite being left on the cutting-room floor. He doesn't recall the accepted apocryphal that Kasdan promised to make right by writing him a plum role in his next picture but does admit to disliking the Jake character at first. By the end of it, Costner starts doing detailed analyses of a couple of sequences that reveal a genuine understanding of his part and how the final product was good or could have been better. I like Costner a lot. Sue me.
"The Making of Silverado" (37 mins., SD) has Kasdan and brother, co-writer Mark, professing their enthusiasm and passion for the western in disturbingly dispassionate terms. They talk a lot about complex camera set-ups and the complexity of dolly shots while we watch B-roll attesting to same. A shame that labour does not always produce commensurate product. Still, it's an honourable piece that doesn't go the usual "Making of" route. Previews for The Da Vinci Code, Casino Royale, Ghostbusters, A River Runs Through It, "Damages" Season 1, and an exhaustive production booklet bound into the digibook packaging round out the presentation. Originally published: March 11, 2010.
132 minutes; PG-13; 2.40:1 (1080p/VC-1); English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, French 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, Portuguese 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, Spanish DD 5.1; English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese subtitles; BD-50; Region-free; Sony