- Directed by Christopher Cain
- August 12, 1988
A group of young deputies attempt to avenge their benefactor’s murder but when one of them takes things too far they become the hunted.
While I did like Chisum (which is a fictionalized retailing of the events depicted in this movie) Young Guns is pretty good. Not that John Wayne is not great but Young Guns is a whole different flavor in comparison. It has much of the spirit of old Westerns but with more modern sensibilities if you get my meaning.
We have a pretty good cast here. Some were on the rise here and all were in top form. We have such actors as Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips, Charlie Sheen, Dermot Mulroney, Casey Siemaszko, Terence Stamp, Terry O’Quinn, Brian Keith, and Jack Palance.
Terence “General Zod” Stamp is the complete opposite of Zod. He is the fatherly figure of the film John Tunstall who is portrayed as the only person to ever give a damn about any of the titular young guns who he calls The Regulators. And Stamp sells it. Tunstall is tough but kind as he forces his charges to better themselves by reading and growing.
Emilio Estevez is great as the unhinged Billy the Kid. You know right away he’s the one that’s basically going to screw everything up no matter what happens because he is violent and rather unpredictable. Estevez was in fine form here. He is all wild eyed and full of bravado. You BELIEVE he is crazy.
And how can you go wrong with casting Lou Diamond Phillips in anything? He is just great as the bitter Jose Chavez y Chavez. He has his own set of baggage and the events of the film make them worse.
The real waste here though was Charlie Sheen as Richard “Dick” Brewer. Despite his presence on the movie poster and placement in the credits, Sheen is really not in that much of the movie and he’s perhaps the least well-defined character. Brewer’s death really kicks things off but he is mostly a blip in the story.
Jack Palance is the villain of the film as Lawrence Murphy. That man had an evil sounding voice that could make the ingredients in cornflakes sound sinister. He had a look, delivery, and presence that made him a great bad guy no matter how good or bad the film was. And here he was absolutely fantastic. He makes a violent feud feel grander than it is with his performance.
Young Guns does not skimp on the action either. Those scenes are great. They are brutal and violent and are depicted as serious events rather than fun excursions. As implied earlier in execution this film walks between a Western of old and one of the revisionist variety. This is about real-life figures who have become near mythical rather than an excursion into myth making. The closest we get to a pure old-style Western is Patrick “Son of John Wayne” Wayne as Pat Garrett.
Given the young star power present at the time it probably helped with the budget. The costuming and the sets are rather good and if you’ve ever gone through a history book and taken a look at the environment what we get here is pretty authentic looking.
The major issue I have is that when it comes to story it seems to kind of just struggle to get to the end. It’s a slow walk from the opening moments to the resolution of the narrative. It’s not terrible but it’s not as good as it could’ve been. I would say trim some dialogue and cut down some scenes.
That would be on top of making it a little clear where things were headed. I’m not saying telegraph the finale well ahead of time but rather when you reach the finale you can see how the clues were sprinkled along. The resolution fits but it doesn’t seem too much as if things were headed in that direction.
And that’s not to call this movie bad. Young Guns is a fine Western for the era. It’s enjoyable and I’ve watched quite a few times. I just wish things had been done a little tighter and a little more focused. We have great performances and a great script and the presence of the great Terence Stamp along with a legendary Jack Palance (who starred in some good westerns of his own) that make this make for a very enjoyable film.
Despite my issues with the movie, Young Guns is a great bit of more modern Western film. It’s exciting and you will care for the characters and sit and be invested from beginning to end. I definitely recommend this movie!