Peter Swanson (IMDB) states in his commentary about Silverado that it is “….the western for 12-year-old boys of all ages." And so it is for me. I grew up in the era of the TV Western so it was with some sense of melancholy that I watched this venerable movie and TV genre slowly die out.
I often reflect on what is different about today’s culture vs the culture of earlier generations. I think that much of what we deal with today is a sort of moral ambiguity nothing is “black and white” everything is “shades of grey”. This is why, when I recently had a discussion about the movie “Watchmen”, my daughter pointed out to me that she loved the movie because the characters seemed like “real” people with "real emotions" and "real personal issues". Not some "fake goody two shoes whitewash like you have with some comic book characters". Well try as I might to enjoy "Watchmen", I found myself focusing too much on the technical aspects of the film in a way that ultimately led to boredom. However, I acknowledge that much of the world we live in now is a post-irony, cynical world where all potential heroes are relentlessly scrutinized until their flaw is found. Today the possibility of someone being a completely virtuous hero simply does not exists. This is why, I suppose, that Batman and Spider Man triumph over Superman with today’s movie going youth.
Now, before you get all “grow up gramps” on me, let me say for the record, I do find Batman and Spiderman good entertainment and I do like that the characters have flaws. This is precisely why (in the Western genre) I enjoyed Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven so very much. It was nothing but shades of grey with no completely right character.
However, let me go back to what I said at the beginning Silverado is “….the western for 12-year-old boys of all ages." As a young boy, I believe it is important to have heroes. Our heroes ought to be clear pillars of the ideals we hope to live up to. So, having Gary Cooper, in High Noon, stand up for the town, when no one else in the town will stand up with him, is a noble selfless act and it is worth us trying to live up to because it is simply the right thing to do.
The Westerns of my youth did that for the most part. I was able to look up to many of these characters like The Lone Ranger, Matt Dillon and the Cartwrights as heroes before having cynicism and sarcasm that marked my late teens and early 20’s kick in.
Silverado came along at just the perfect time in my life. It was 1985 and Westerns in general, especially ones that were done in the style of the “old fashioned” movie and TV Western had fallen out of favor big time. I was 32 and finally able to enjoy something for its simplicity of joy and celebration of more traditional values without feeling compelled to put down those values for fear of looking unhip or uncool.
Silverado plays for me like the Western’s Greatest Hits. It did nothing particularly new. It had all been done before in other movies. Each of the characters reminded me of Western Heroes from the past. Scott Glenn as Emmet channels Gary Cooper, Kevin Kline as Padin channels characters like Paladin, from “Have Gun Will Travel”, and Kevin Costner is simply over the top as Jake, the cocky kid that is like a younger, looser version of Roy Rogers. You round this out with Linda Hunt, Danny Glover, and Brian Dennehy and this is one rip-roaring cast that is just flat out fun to be with.
Paden: [lifts his drink] To my midnight star. Stella: Cobb's using me to stop you. So good people are being hurt because of me. That makes me mad. Some people think because they're stronger, or meaner, that they can push you around. I've seen a lot of that. But it's only true if you let it be. The world is what you make of it. Paden: I like your attitude. But it can be risky. Stella: I'm ready for that. How about you? Paden: [heavy sigh] I don't want you to get hurt. Stella: He can't hurt me... if he's dead.
Every Western cliché is there. But the way this is performed takes everything up to the highest level. I once had the privilege of hearing Peter Vidmar, the 1984 Olympic Gold Medalist give a talk on how you a achieve a “10” in gymnastics. He spoke that if an athlete did everything technically correct, he or she could only get a 9.4. So it begged the question, how did you get a “10”? He talked about three elements necessary to achieve the “10”. They were Risk, Originality and Virtuosity (ROV) 1) Risk is simply doing something that puts yourself at risk of failure, 2) Originality (demonstrating something that had never been done before), and 3) Virtuosity, the Brilliance of the Performance itself.
It is in the third category that Silverado shines. It takes (and includes) every Western cliché and performs them in a way that has never been done before (or since). So, when I see Silverado, I am instantly transformed into the 12 year old boy, when life was less cynical and people could be heroes.