Young Guns (1988)    1 Stars

“Don’t count the odds, count the bodies.”

Young Guns (1988)
Young Guns (1988)

Director: Christopher Cain

Cast: Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips

Synopsis: A group of young gunmen, led by Billy the Kid, become deputies to avenge the murder of the rancher who became their benefactor. But when Billy takes their authority too far, they become the hunted.




The passing of time has done Christopher Cain’s Young Guns a favour in one respect. Back in 1988, when it was first released, the phenomenon of the Brat Pack was still a reasonably strong one, and the idea of many of the male members of the Pack dressing up as cowboys was met with delighted derision in some quarters. Today, the Brat Pack is a distant memory, with many of its stars long since passing from the limelight; a large number of today’s moviegoers weren’t even born when Young Guns was made, and have no knowledge of the Pack, or its members. This fact allows us to focus more on the film, and of its depiction of the Lincoln County Wars.

The Lincoln County War has provided filmmakers with a rich source of inspiration, thanks largely to the involvement of legendary outlaw Billy the Kid, who was a member of The Regulators, a kind of security force created by British cattle rancher John Tunstall to protect his cattle from rustlers and rival ranchers. Rather than the violent psychopath of Western lore, Billy is played here by Emilio Estevez as a high-spirited youth which, from all accounts, is probably closer to the truth than traditional accounts would have you believe. When Tunstall (Terence Stamp), who is something of a mentor to the young men who make up The Regulators, is gunned down by rival rancher Lawrence G. Murphy’s (Jack Palance – The Four Deuces, Outlaw of Gor) men, The Regulators are deputised to catch the killers, but Billy’s trigger-happiness soon puts them on the wrong side of the law.

Estevez, an actor of limited ability, is actually quite good as Billy the Kid. Like his half-brother, Charlie Sheen (Machete Kills), who plays The Regulators’ leader, Dick Brewer, he’s good at projecting a dangerous, devil-may-care attitude on screen, which is just what the part of Billy calls for. Sheen’s smaller, more restrained role, means that he fails to make much of an impression, but Kiefer Sutherland (1969) quietly imposes himself on the film as an unlikely, bookish member of the gang, despite being saddled with an entirely superfluous romance with the Oriental girl (Alice Carter) Murphy took from her laundry-owning parents as compensation for ruining his shirts.

Young Guns is one of those Westerns made for people who don’t watch Westerns, and it’s true that there is a novelty-casting element to it that was a real distraction back in ’88. While the movie has that grungy look of later Westerns, the boys are still made to look more cool than dirty, and the movie’s use of modern sensibilities is a drawback which smacks of commercial compromise. Nevertheless, for a Hollywood movie Young Guns, while perhaps not sticking close to the facts, at least uses them as a basis for its storyline and, apart from a mid-section that drags a little, provides a reasonable level of entertainment.

(Reviewed 5th April 2015)

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