Young Guns (1988) Directed by Christopher Cain. With Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips, Casey Siemaszko, Charlie Sheen, Dermot Mulroney, Terence Stamp and Jack Palance.
Young Guns is an example of a film elevated by the fun of watching a group of actors with a collective chemistry, born of off-screen friendships and earlier collaborations that combine to imbue the adventure with a sense of star-quality, coming of age. In short, Christopher Cain’s western for the MTV generation is the crest of the 1980’s brat-pack era – a revenge story starring Billy the Kid (Emilio Estevez) and a bunch of young men who bring about the beginnings of the Lincoln County War.
Next to the likes of Sergio Leone’s epic ‘dollars trilogy’, Young Guns appears somewhat frivolous with its pretty-boy cowboys and shrieking electric guitars, yet, those who come to it aren’t searching for the gold standard of westerns. Admittedly, the soundtrack doesn’t fit and Christopher Cain could have established a more cinematic tone, but it’s short-sighted not to see the appeal.
For starters, Emilio Estevez is good value as “The Kid”. From a pure lookalike-mannerisms perspective, it’s hard to ignore the presence of of his famous father, Martin Sheen, and that seminal performance in Badlands (both romanticised anti-heroes on the run) yet still, there’s a warmth in watching the son emulate the father. With John Fusco’s script, Estevez finds an appealing line of bat-shit crazy with his interpretation of Billy. I use the word interpretation liberally, because in the name of entertainment, you have to let certain things slide. If you’ve seen a picture of Billy the Kid (Google him) you’ll know he looks more like the banjo-picking kid in Deliverance than a young Emilio. But then, the agenda here isn’t historical accuracy, it’s more seated in an attempt to create its own mythology, harnessing historical names and places by blending them with the pulling power of the brat-pack reputation. And it works well.
It helps that the film is propped-up by the sturdy older hands of an authoritative Terence Stamp and western veteran Jack Palance. Palance, the antagonist of the piece, not only provides much-needed authenticity, he’s also a good counter to Estevez in the unhinged stakes. Casey Siemaszko and Dermot Mulroney equally stand out as two pronounced characters we can easily root for as the stakes raise, with the star faces of Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips and Charlie Sheen rounding out the gang.
In brief, you can choose to be a snob about Young Guns, or, you can put away your history books and enjoy the ride like you’re supposed to. 3.5/5