I will begin this blog post with a question: Is it possible for a western genre film to be totally 80's? If you answered no, then you have clearly never seen the film Young Guns, which manages to be both a sturdy western and an example of everything we have come to both love and loathe about 80's filmmaking. Rife with a group of the hottest actors of the late 80's, Young Guns has everything one would desire from the particular era of filmmaking, yet it manages to have solid shootouts and a considerable grasp of western elements as had been well established decades earlier. Furthermore, despite having a set of actors who have by no means become synonymous with respected acting, the film is quite enjoyable and surprisingly engaging. Young Guns, as a film, deserves recognition as one of the better offering from the back half of the decade and is certainly one of the standout Westerns made within the past twenty years. The film is not particularly stellar in any of its execution; however, it is notably consistent and is a solid movie. One will be hard pressed to find anything within the film that remotely justifies it as being cinematic, yet it is easy to find moments of enjoyability throughout the film, whether they come from Keifer Sutherland waxing poetic or Emilio Estevez attempting to out bad ass Charlie Sheen. Essentially, Young Guns is nothing more than a regular teen drama set with the Wild West as its backdrop, yet something about its composition manages to be engaging enough to keep the viewer around even if it is a terribly predictable film.
Young Guns, follows a group of gunslingers who have barely passed the threshold of puberty attempting to make their name in the ruthless world of the newly emerging west. Their sole form of guidance comes in the form of a suave mentor and employer named John Tunstall (Terence Stamp) who in exchange for protection teaches the young men how to read and write. These young men are a group of unique individuals that clearly trust each other, yet manage to pave distinct paths that would quickly mean loosing interest in one another’s desires. The group of boys includes Charley Bowdre (Casey Siemasko) and Dirty Steve Stephens (Dermot Mulroney) the clear lackeys in the gang who rarely speak and simply follow the orders of the higher members of the gang. Jose Chavez (Lou Diamond Phillips) a knife wielding Mexican who has ties to Navajo ancestry. Josiah “Doc” Scurlock (Keifer Sutherland) the intellectual of the group who finds himself preoccupied with taking the hand of a Chinese immigrant. Dick Brewer (Charlie Sheen) the clear leader of the back who adheres to the idea of letting his actions speak louder than his words, and finally William “The Kid” Bonney (Emilio Estevez) the newcomer to the group whose rebellious spirit and clearly high levels of angst continually place the group, know as The Regulators, in danger. It is not long into their existence that the group is forced to test their limits as a ruthless politician named Lawrence G. Murphy (Jack Palance) starts trouble with John Tunstall upon the realization that he has his own political ambitions. To assure his failed candidacy, Murphy has Tunstall killed, which leads the group into a vengeful fit that leaves many of Murphy’s men dead in the hill and streets of the Wild West. Ultimately, with the aid of Tunstall’s friend Alex McSween (Terry O’Quinn) the group is able to hole-up in a house and fend off Murphy’s attacks upon the group, who have at this point in the film become criminals. This comes, however, with a large amount of loss, most notably Dick Brewer, who dies much earlier because of a bounty placed on his head, when he is mistaken as The Kid. Ultimately, most of the group is able to escape into hiding and continue with their life with little hassle, of course, the narrative notes that “The Kid,” as known in famous Wild West tales is in fact killed, but as the inevitable sequel suggests, that story is for another time.
I joked about the film being incredibly 80’s in its existence; however, the jesting does have an inherent truth to it below the surface. Despite being entrenched within the dialogue and ways of the west, Young Guns is absolutely a social critique of 1980’s America, particularly one in which the youth of America had become disillusioned with their political system. This particular time in American politics witnessed the problematic era of Reaganomics and hyper-conservative rule over The United States, only to be followed by the seeming certainty that an inept and equally conservative president would take their place. The transfer of power from one corrupt individual to another seemed illogical yet impossible to end without force and confrontation. However, despite the feelings many individuals found themselves too indifferent to affect a change and simply found themselves content complaining about the problems without engaging in their discontinuation. Young Guns is certainly an attempt to create a zealous animosity towards such unchecked powers. The aptly named Regulators are meant to take down Murphy, a conservative politician with deep-rooted political ties and seemingly endless amounts of money, while young Americans were believed responsible for taking down Right Wing oppression, which too had deep pockets of money and political power. As is the case with the film, many people suffered from the revolution against such powers, but as would be the case only a few years later, politics did change, and while it may not have been for the better overall, it certainly did prove promising for the future of youth involvement in political change. While it is quite possible that Young Guns is simply a western film intended for young adults and teenagers, it would be unfortunate to look over the clear societal influences affecting its production, as they add a clear element of the era’s political discourse.
Young Guns is certainly a contemporary classic that is to be seen. However, it is not so brilliant that owning a copy is necessary, in fact, the current copy available is not the greatest of quality and suffers from a few dubbing issues. As such, renting the film seems to be the best choice at the moment.