In my last review, 3:10 to Yuma, I lamented the casting of two non-Americans, Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, in the lead roles for a Western. I suppose, however, that would be our just desserts for movies like this, which retells an English legend with four Americans in the lead roles. The most visible British actor is stuck playing the villain, making this, I suppose, sort of an unofficial Star Wars film. To add insult to injury, the entire story is refashioned as a generic action movie, raining down clichés like flaming arrows.
The last time Kevin Costner got anywhere near John F. Kennedy’s presidency, namely Oliver Stone’s cinematic hallucination known as JFK, history took a beating like a narc in a biker bar. Thankfully, Roger Donaldson’s Thirteen Days doesn’t take anywhere near the number of liberties with the truth (how could it) and its historically questionable aspects are minor and forgivable as necessary dramatic licenses in the service of a tightly honed political thriller that also happens to be mostly true.
Oliver Stone‘s JFK is a movie as admirable in its technique as it is troubling in its agenda. Much like Birth of a Nation sought to rewrite the early history of the original Ku Klux Klan, JFK represents a concerted effort on Stone’s part to insert certifiable falsehoods into the historical record of the Kennedy assassination. He gets two basic facts correct. John F. Kennedy was indeed assassinated on November 22, 1963 and New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison did actually prosecute businessman Clay Shaw for his role in an alleged conspiracy. After that, the facts and Mr. Stone have a strained relationship at best. I sincerely hope that this movie will be as routinely dismissed by future generations as Birth of a Nation is today.
Lawrence Kasdan‘s Silverado is a modern old-fashioned western. It’s old-fashioned in the way that it pretends that the western never fell out of favor as a genre. Embued with the optimism that westerns lost in the late 1960s and 1970s, it freely embraces the time-honored conventions that Blazing Saddles gleefully lampooned a decade earlier. It’s modern in its first-rate production values and its cast of stars-in-the-making.
Filmed mostly in New Mexico, Silverado makes the maximum use of the wide open spaces available. Towns sit in the middle of vast plains that stretch to distant mountains. The cinematography is almost a character unto itself.
The last time director Lawrence Kasdan and Kevin Costner teamed up for a western it was 1985’s sunny and retro Silverado, a movie that was as much an homage to the traditional western as anything else. Their second teaming, Wyatt Earp, is a complete 180-degree turn from the first. Billed as a serious examination of the life of the famous and controversial lawman, Wyatt Earp takes a long time to win our hearts and then overstays its welcome.