Young Guns (1988) – Christopher Cain

A fun cast gives a bit of a young update on a classic western tale as Emilio Estevez climbs into the saddle as Billy the Kid in Christopher Cain’s Young Guns. Featuring a high-profile cast that included Lou Diamond Phillips, Kiefer Sutherland, Dermot Mulroney, Terence Stamp, Jack Palance and Terry O’Quinn.

John Tunstall (Stamp) has a herd of cattle, and a clutch of young men he looks after, educating them in return for their working the ranch, and regulating its safety. Unfortunatley, someone has his eyes on Tunstall’s herd, and he has the local sheriff in his pocket. That someone is L.G. Murphy (Palance), and he’s not above outright murder to pull it off.

Amongst Tunstall’s wards are Billy, Doc (Sutherland), Chavez (Phillips), Dick (Charlie Sheen), Steve (Mulroney) and Charley (Casey Siemaszko), and while their personalities don’t always click, Billy and Dick in particular seem to regularly butt heads, when Tunstall is killed they are united in their desire to see justice served.

Unfortunately, justice is seen differently by some, and soon, Billy is leading a bloody charge against those responsible for Tunstall’s death, which puts them on the wrong side of the law, now becoming the hunted and riding into American myth.

Cain creates a fun film, and Estevez, Sutherland and Phillips shine throughout getting the meatiest material to work with. It plays strictly within the tropes you’d expect to find in a western, remember this was long before Unforgiven, but the infusion of Brat Pack era actors into the genre no doubt drew new viewers to it.

I remember the fist time I saw the film, and honestly, outside of two other westerns, Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, and Silverado, this was one of my earliest westerns, and I dug it. I was intrigued by the music score because it eschewed a lot of traditional orchestral ideas and incorporated electric guitars and gave it a bit more of a modern feel.

Has it stood the test of time? I would say yes. It’s not as iconic as Leone’s spaghetti westerns, Unforgiven, and countless others, but it’s a solid entry, walking the line between history and the growth of a legend.

The cinematography is not what we have come to expect from the genre, and that may be the only thing that truly holds it back from being truly iconic, but it is damned cool seeing Sutherland, Estevez and Phillips embracing their inner cowboy and looking damned stylish doing it.

The film built enough of a following that a sequel (featuring music by Jon Bon Jovi) followed two years later, it didn’t have quite the summer impact that the studio wanted it to have, and consequently the films have fallen by the wayside, but the first film is definitely worth a look, and a rewatch.

Mount up Regulators!

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