Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Young Guns review

Young Guns (1988)
Dir. Christopher Cain
Starring: Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Philips, Terence Stamp, Jack Palance

A retelling of the adventures of Billy the Kid (Estevez) during the Lincoln County War staring a bunch of up and coming pretty boy actors from the eighties.

The story of Billy the Kid, the Regulators, and the Lincoln County War is a very interesting tale, so it makes sense that it has been adapted and retold many times over the years. This loose retelling* features a lot of the characters and events of the actual conflict, but changes somethings up for dramatic effect. And like with My Darling Clementine, I will not fault a movie for taking liberties in order to effectively tell a story. Narrative films are based on storytelling, and if I wanted to experience what really happened, I don’t think that an eighties action movie would be the best place to get the real story. 

But as it is Young Guns is a fun film. I am sure the reasoning behind the movie was “put these handsome guys in a movie together cause it’ll make some money”, but the final result is a pretty entertaining film. It’s not a classic by any stretch, but it’s a fun way to fill an afternoon. The movie does feel like most action films of the late eighties, but at the same time it avoids looking cheap like most other films from that era did. Most of that can be attributed to cinematographer Dean Semler, who had previously shot The Road Warrior, one of the greatest films ever made, and Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, a film I hope to never see. The film is full of fun scenes, and you do get the impression that the actors probably had fun making the film. The ending action scene at the home of Alex McSween (Terry O’Quinn) is pretty well done, and the film doesn’t lag due to bad pacing. It is also good in its handling of the team 6 characters and the other side characters that populate the film. Some characters get more screen time than others (it just makes sense that Emilio Estevez’s Billy the Kid would be highlighted more than Casey Siemaszko’s Charley Bowdre, he is the bigger star), but the film is good about giving all the characters moments to shine to no one feels slighted, which is an accomplishment that most films with less characters seem unable to achieve.

Watching this movie now made me think that Emilio Estevez is a better, more natural actor than his brother. He does plays Billy the Kid as a charismatic sociopath, charming at times, but relishing the moments where he gets to kill someone while laughing with an enormous grin on his face. He is a big part of why the movie works, and with a lesser actor in the role the film would suffer. But it's interesting to see his scenes where he is arguing with Dick, the character played by his brother. The scenes feel real in a way that only could come from experience of dealing with someone for years. Charlie Sheen isn't bad in the role, but his part is pretty thankless. He's mainly there as the voice of reason against Estevez's Billy, and it's a role that is less showy and blander. Terrance Stamp is great in his small role, elevating the material. The same can be said about Jack Palance as the villain Lawrence Murphy, but his biggest weakness is that he is off screen for most of the film while the Regulators hunt down his men. When he is onscreen he's fun to watch, chewing the scenery and making you wish that he was in the film more than he is.

Overall it is a fun movie.  I don’t think that it will make anyone’s list of favorites, but it’s a pretty decent late eighties action movie, and it’s got some fun moments and enjoyable performances. It succeeds in telling a story well and not being boring. Plus in a weird coincidence I happened to grab this movie off of a stack of things to watch days before the anniversary of the birth of Billy the Kid (September 17, 1859). So that's kind of amusing to me, and it lead to me watching the sequel , and I will write up some rambling about that soon.

*Watching the movie and reading the Wikipedia page of the Lincoln County War quickly shows how different the actual events where, and this carries over to the sequel, which kills off characters that in reality died of old age. Granted historian Paul Hutton said that “both movies had some nice historical detail in them although they are of course, complete fiction”1.

**Granted I watched an old cheap dvd I found of it, and the blu-ray is said to have one of the worst video transfers on the format. Avoid that unless it gets a remaster (which is doubtful. Lionsgate owns it and they doing seem to care about AV quality).


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