a critiQal film review Young Guns (1988)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: John Tunstall (Stamp), a distinguished British gentleman, employs downtrodden youths to tend his herd on the New Mexican frontier. When Tunstall is gunned down by the crooked Lawrence G. Murphy (Palance), a ragtag group of cow hands - including Doc Scurlock (Sutherland), Richard Brewer (Sheen) and young William "Billy the Kid" Bonney (Estevez) - ride forth in search of bloody vengeance for the death of their beloved mentor.

720 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 36s)

With our slow backwater internet causing Vudu® to have problems, it was up to NetFlix® to provide this week’s #TBT movie review. Unfortunately, there weren’t that many choices to pick from that met the criteria…in fact, only two I could find right off the bat: Dead Poet’s Society…and Young Guns. Since I wasn’t really in the mood for a weepy flick, I picked the brat pack western instead.

But, with such slim pickings, had I really picked a decent movie with Young Guns? Or should I have gone for the tearjerker instead?

The so-called “Brat Pack” – with Emilio Estevez as a core member, and Kiefer Sutherland and Charlie Sheen honorary members – is out in full force in Young Guns…but that isn’t necessarily a good thing. Emilio Estevez, who is more known as the weird jock in The Breakfast Club and the kid-friendly coach in The Mighty Ducks, takes on the psychopathic role of Billy the Kid. While it’s nice to see him stepping out of his comfort zone, it’s also really hard these days to reconcile his baby face with this violent guy, and the viewer will struggle with that throughout the film.

Kiefer Sutherland, on the other hand, who has gotten darker with films like The Lost Boys (1987), Flatliners (1990), Dark City (1998) (and even on TV in “24” (TV)), is oddly cast as the nice guy of the bunch in Young Guns. He’s the poet with the heart of gold caught up way over his head, and he keeps trying to sway the movie into more of a love story, with his infatuation with the “China girl” as he calls her. Also, it’s hard to see him take a backseat to Estevez, since it seems obvious he should take the lead (and get off his poet-loving love-struck butt).

Charlie Sheen, Lou Diamond Phillips and Dermot Mulroney, on the other hand, are decently placed in Young Guns. While they don’t quite get the spotlight that Emilio and Kiefer do, they are a good supporting group for those two. They each have their moments, and while they aren’t great moments, they make their characters seem a bit more easy to watch. Casey Siemaszko rounds out the group, and despite his lack of name recognition, manages to keep up with the rest without a problem.

The actual supporting cast of Young Guns includes several familiar faces. While Terence Stamp and Jack Palance barely get more than a scene or two (despite their pivotal roles), a barely recognizable Terry O’Quinn (he has hair!) does a decent job as a lawyer. Surprisingly, he’s the one that sets the moral standard in the film, and the way he gets caught up in the final showdown says more about the wrongness of the situation than anything else.

Director Christopher Cain seems to be infatuated with the old west. Although he has put in obvious 80’s items (lots of slow motion for no reason, a synth-infused soundtrack, the actors he picked), he seems to try to infuse the feeling of old-timey cinema into Young Guns. Unfortunately, even with his use of grainy video and his intentions, there’s just something… fake …about the whole thing. Rather than invoking the feel of the late 19th century, the film comes across more as something viewers might see if they were to venture into one of those fake old west towns today. It’s obviously a cheesy reenactment of “typical” old west life, and while the viewer may enjoy the show, they will never really find themselves involved in it.

And that’s the biggest problem with Young Guns. Despite it’s star power and historical references, there’s an overwhelming sense of unreality to the film the viewer can never quite get past. It doesn’t help that Emilio and Kiefer are given the wrong roles, but that’s not all of it. Almost every part of the film – from the dirt smeared across the actor’s faces to the towns they enter – seems to contribute to the feel of a cheesy reenactment, rather than an inspired piece of filmmaking.

After watching Young Guns, it seems a bit surprising they made a sequel. But they did, and from the publicity that still abounds about the film, it seems like Young Guns II may be the better of the two. Here’s hoping.

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