Sunday, July 2, 2023

Young Guns - 1988 Movie


Young Guns is yet another Western which opens with a scene showing an ordinary main street in a nameless town that is suddenly interrupted by a violent action.  In the case of this 1988 movie, two men talking on the sidewalk hear a gunshot and see a youth running down the street.  Cut to the men rescuing the youth and taking him back to a ranch in their wagon.
So begins Young Guns, which tells the story of the Lincoln County War in New Mexico, although it was filmed at Old Tucson in Arizona.  Starring Emilio Estevez as Billy the Kid – although viewers don’t know that’s who the character is until about 30 minutes into the movie -- and several other well-known young actors of the 1980s and 1990s including his brother Charlie Sheen, Keifer Sutherland, and Lou Diamond Philips as Regulators, the film does a good job of showing the conflict from their viewpoint.
Early scenes in Young Guns reveal the friendly rivalry among the Regulators, the young men employed by John Tunstall (played by Terence Stamp) to work his ranch and protect it from outsiders, as well as how Billy does and does not try to fit in to the group.  One scene in particular makes clear one way he is different from some of the others: After dinner one evening, the boys take turns reading from a newspaper as Tunstall contentedly sits in a rocking chair.  He calls on Billy to read but Billy declines.  After being told he can either read now or leave the ranch in the morning, Billy acquiesces and reads far more fluently than the previous youth.  Tunstall is clearly pleased.
My impression was that Tunstall was trying to “civilize” his young workers.  He refers to them as the “jetsam and flotsam of society” and dispenses nuggets of wisdom as they do their chores around the ranch.  It’s a relatively peaceful, tranquil existence. 
But it doesn’t last.  In an altercation with a business rival, Tunstall is killed and the remainder of Young Guns is about how Billy and the Regulators attempt, first by legal means, to bring the murderers to justice.  However, things don’t go according to plan and they find themselves on the wrong side of the law.  Instead of chasing the bad guys, they are now the outlaws.
Billy’s true character is exposed as he repeatedly shoots people whom he believes are in his way of obtaining justice for Tunstall.  The other Regulators he rides with are at first angry with Billy, then scared about what his actions mean for them, and finally resigned that they are stuck with being labeled as his accomplices.  Billy seems to revel in the violence, unlike his companions, but they are unable to stop him.  As Young Guns progresses, their situation becomes more and more dire.
A side plot involves Doc Scurlock (played by Kiefer Sutherland), one of the Regulators, trying to rescue a Chinese woman who appears to be the property of a wealthy man who was an enemy of John Tunstall.  To the best of my knowledge, it’s not historically accurate but regardless of whether the purpose was to provide some romance or show the plight of Asian women in the Old West, it doesn’t detract too much from the main plot of Young Guns.
The climax of Young Guns involves the inevitable showdown between the Regulators and the men who opposed them and were behind the murder of John Tunstall.  It’s suitably action-filled and tense.  I won’t give anything away but will say that I disliked how the director (Christopher Cain) chose to film part of the ending.
Other stalwarts of Western movies who appear in Young Guns include Brian Keith and Jack Palance in supporting roles.  At 102 minutes, the movie never drags and even if it isn’t quite true to what really happened in the Lincoln County War, Young Guns is enjoyable viewing.