Young Guns

Posted on March 8th, 2011 in 1980s, Westerns, Jack Palance by Colin

Poster

Such is the nature of this series of reviews that we go from the sublime to…well, Young Guns (1988). To be honest, it’s hard for me to find very many positive things to say about this one. It seems to be touted as the most historically accurate movie dealing with the life and times of Mr Bonney, but that’s really only in a superficial sense - events take place out of order, characters are missing or misrepresented, and people are shown to die in ways and at times they never did. But OK, it’s a film and you have to expect some of that. For me, the biggest problem is the poor acting of the “Brat Pack” stars. There’s nothing the least bit convincing about any of the central performances nor is there any real feel for time and place.

The plot deals with the events leading up to and during the Lincoln County War. It starts off with Billy (Emilio Estevez) being taken in by Tunstall (Terence Stamp) and his integration into the group of Regulators (of course they weren’t actually known as Regulators until after Tunstall’s death) that act as hired muscle. Now, there’s a problem here right away; the Regulators were, by all accounts, a bunch of tough gunmen who were ruthless by nature. What the movie presents us with, however, is a collection of soft looking post-adolescents being tutored by the kindly Tunstall. Mind you, this set up does allow the chief villain, Murphy (Jack Palance), to toss out a loaded line about Tunstall’s interest in “educating” young boys. There’s also an allusion made to the Old World grudges fuelling the rivalry - Murphy being an Irish immigrant and Tunstall a wealthy Englishman - but nothing further comes of that. Such bad feelings weren’t the source of the conflict, but it might have made for an interesting plot device if it had been explored in more depth - after all, the script doesn’t shy away from other departures from the truth. With the assassination of Tunstall, the story gets down to the serious business of depicting as many tit-for-tat killings as can be squeezed into the running time. This gives rise to another scripting issue; the action tears headlong from one manic and confused gunfight to the next, with characters popping up and being dispatched before you get a chance to even realise who they are. There’s never a sense that you’re getting to know anything of substance about the leads, except maybe Chavez (Lou Diamond Phillips) and Doc Scurlock (Kiefer Sutherland). And even then the results are nothing to write home about; the former plays out an embarrassingly bad scene where he explains his motivation, and the latter is handed a horribly tacked on romance in between his poetry writing sessions. So the plot charges its way towards the climactic Battle of Lincoln - one of the better staged sequences - before coming to a pretty dumb conclusion.

All guns blazing - Emilio Estevez as the Kid.

Essentially, this film is trying to pack too many events and people into its running time, leading to clutter and an unsatisfactory lack of development. As the Kid, Emilio Estevez comes across as a kind of giggling fool with no character progression whatsoever from the opening until the ending. I already mentioned the low point of Lou Diamond Phillips getting in touch with his angst, but his “mystic Indian” schtick all through the movie is both dull and cliched. I think Kiefer Sutherland probably fares better than any of the other young stars, though it has to be said that the attempts to portray Doc Scurlock as some kind of sensitive and bookish intellectual feel too much like an affectation. Also the romantic subplot involving the Asian girl really serves no purpose other than to show what a bad man Murphy is. In truth, that’s not even necessary as Jack Palance’s presence should be enough in itself. Sure the old-timer leers and hams it up, but even so he still blows the so-called stars away every time he appears. Which brings me to the only positive aspect of the picture, the older generation of actors who make appearances. Terence Stamp brings a touch of class to Tunstall and it’s a pity he wasn’t given more to do. Brian Keith, as Buckshot Roberts, only has one scene but it says something for the man that it’s so memorable. Even Pat Wayne’s little cameo as Pat Garrett stands out and helps illustrate the gulf in class between the nominal leads and their elders.

The R2 DVD from Lionsgate is acceptable but not particularly notable. The film is given an anamorphic transfer that looks a little soft to me. The only extras are the trailer and some filmographies. I saw Young Guns when it was first released, and I wasn’t very impressed at the time. If I hadn’t been doing this series then I don’t think I would have bothered to watch it again. It represents the kind of western that doesn’t appeal to me at all, telling you more about the time it was made than the time in which the action takes place. I’m afraid it’s not a film that I could recommend.

12 Responses to 'Young Guns'

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  1. le0pard13 said,

    on March 8th, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    Which brings me to the only positive aspect of the picture, the older generation of actors who make appearances. Terence Stamp brings a touch of class to Tunstall and it’s a pity he wasn’t given more to do. Brian Keith, as Buckshot Roberts, only has one scene but it says something for the man that it’s so memorable. Even Pat Wayne’s little cameo as Pat Garrett stands out and helps illustrate the gulf in class between the nominal leads and their elders.

    Nailed it! The previous echelon is so head and shoulders above the ‘brat’ pack in this, it’s not even funny. Whatever I got from the old pros in the film was quickly diminished anytime Estevez and his generation showed up. Does this mean you’ll be writing up Young Guns II, as well?

    I enjoyed reading your breakdown of YG way more than watching it, Colin. Thanks for this.

  2. Toby Roan said,

    on March 8th, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    They say Clint Eastwood resurrected the Western with Unforgiven.

    Young Guns shows just how dead it was.

  3. Richard said,

    on March 8th, 2011 at 5:07 pm

    You’re too kind to this film, Colin.

    I have zero tolerance for YOUNG GUNS. A mindless, thoughtless, undisciplined, empty, smirking, sneering, noisy, obnoxious movie. Bad history, bad western, bad filmmaking. Sure it’s in color, it’s in focus, and it’s a talkie, but so what? The sequel is twice as much of the same.

    Sorry.

    Richard

  4. Livius said,

    on March 8th, 2011 at 10:03 pm

    Thanks for the comments guys.
    Firstly, le0pard I will indeed be writing up a piece on Young Guns II just to round off the series. God help me!

    Toby, that’s perfectly put. The film is one of the real low points of the genre.

    And Richard, I think I probably was too indulgent. The fact is I find it hard to write a piece that doesn’t have at least something positive to say - but this one really posed a challenge on that score.

  5. Ian said,

    on March 8th, 2011 at 11:08 pm

    I remember seeing this at the cinema when it came out and loving it. I was in that 18-30 demographic so beloved of movie studios (I think I was about 23 at the time) and a similar age to the Brat Pack.

    I’m now well passed that target audience, heading (far to rapidly) towards 50. Last year I rewatched Young Guns and, I’m happy to say, now see it as the loud, obnoxious, characterless trash it always was.

    It seems there’s something to be said for growing old after all…

  6. Livius said,

    on March 8th, 2011 at 11:25 pm

    I would have been in that target demographic too when I first saw it Ian, around 20 years old or so. I know my friends at the time seemed to enjoy it more than I did. I wonder how it would play now to an audience of a similar age.

  7. Ian said,

    on March 8th, 2011 at 11:55 pm

    When I rewatched it it was with a friend who’s in her mid-twenties. She hated it. I was trying to win her over to the Western as she wasn’t a fan. I figured try something that I’d enjoyed when I was her age, turned out that was a bad idea.

    However it should be noted that my previous attempt had met with a similar reaction, and that was The Searchers!

  8. Livius said,

    on March 9th, 2011 at 12:14 am

    Sounds as though you might as well give that project up as a bad job Ian. It’s always disappointing, to say the least, when your best efforts meet with disaproval. Reminds me of the time, over ten years ago now, when I took my girlfriend along to see a screening of The Wild Bunch after assuring her it would be a real treat. Well, she grumbled before we went, grumbled during the movie, and continued to grumble when it was over. Sometimes you just can’t win.

  9. Judy said,

    on March 14th, 2011 at 9:23 am

    Don’t think I’ve ever seen this one, but I’ve always intended to get round to it some day. After reading your thoughts, maybe I won’t worry all that much if I don’t get to it - though I will try to catch it if it turns up on TV!

  10. Richard said,

    on March 21st, 2011 at 5:21 am

    THE WILD BUNCH is not date-friendly. Too much aggression up there on the screen for most women, and no female characters they can identify with. If I wanted to share a western with a girlfriend, I’d choose one with a female lead they can relate to, or at least not be offended by. McCABE & MRS MILLER, THE LONG RIDERS, TOM HORN and TOMBSTONE usually work. OPEN RANGE and APPALOOSA work.

    I knew a woman novelist who was obsessed with PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID. She liked THE WILD BUNCH, too. She owned the whiskey bottle prop that Coburn drinks from. But she was very strange, as in mentally unstable. Her agent told me he dreaded their annual meetings.

    Colin, you might want to add Frank Perry’s DOC and I MARRIED WYATT EARP to your Earp reviews, now that they’re out on DVD.

  11. Livius said,

    on March 21st, 2011 at 9:57 am

    Yes Richard, on reflection, The Wild Bunch was probably a poor choice under the circumstances. Of those you’ve mentioned, I agree that Tombstone and Appaloosa are what could be termed date-friendly - I haven’t “test driven” the others, so to speak.

    Thanks too for the other suggestions; I’ve had a copy of Doc for a while now but it’s still unwatched, unfortunately.


  12. on November 13th, 2011 at 1:36 am

    […] Way back in March, the ever-excellent Ride the High Country covered a series of films about Billy the Kid, including this late-’80s effort. To quote from the comments section: “I would have been in that target demographic too when I first saw it… around 20 years old or so… I wonder how it would play now to an audience of a similar age.” Well, as someone who watched it when closer to 20 than 30, I shall step up to the task. […]

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