Turn Back the Clock


Young Guns

Distributed by: 20th Century Fox

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


            In an attempt to clear the clutter of VHS tapes from my home, I recently purchased the movie Young Guns in DVD format.  I haven’t seen the entire movie in quite some time as this was a VHS tape that I inherited and I have mostly caught some glimpse of the film when it appeared on television.  This is how it came to be that I found myself seated in front of my television, watching a movie I hadn’t seen in its entirety in umpteen years…well, at least a decade or so.

            Young Guns is loosely based on the life of the outlaw known as Billy the Kid (Emilio Estevez).  In this film, we meet Billy as a teenager running from the law for an unknown offense.  In an instance of good fortune, Billy is discovered by John Tunstall (Terence Stamp), an Englishman and cattle rancher with a general store in Lincoln County, New Mexico.  Tunstall has a soft spot in his heart for runaways and ne’er-do-wells, taking them into his home, educating them and employing them as regulators used to protect his ranch and store.

            Tunstall is a likeable fellow, but not without enemies.  His interests have crossed paths with a well-connected rancher known as Lawrence Murphy (Jack Palance).  Unfortunately, while Tunstall denounces violence for the most part, Murphy is not above using violence to eliminate his competition.  After ignoring Murphy’s warnings, Tunstall finds himself at the wrong end of several pistols.  His “Regulators,” Dick Brewer (Charlie Sheen), Chavez (Lou Diamond Phillips), Doc Scurlock (Kiefer Sutherland), Dirty Steve Stephens (Dermot Mulroney) and Charlie Bowdrie (Casey Siemaszko), vow revenge.  Enlisting the aid of Tunstall’s friend Alexander McEwen (Terry O‘Quinn), the Regulators are deputized and given the task of executing warrants for the arrest of Tunstall’s murderers. 

            But things soon get out of control, especially once Billy the Kid begins to exert his will, become de facto leader of the group.  His interpretation of executing warrants is rather literal, putting the Regulators on the wrong side of the law.  Bounties on their heads, the Regulators must now keep one step ahead of lawmen and bounty hunters while still attempting to bring their style of justice to the men that murdered their benefactor.

            Young Guns is a western with plenty of action by way of gun battles, explosions and horseback riding.  The battles are rather bloody and no one is safe from the bullet, not even the main characters.  For those who enjoy such things, there is even a bit of a love story as Doc falls deep for a woman Murphy owns, taken as payment from her mother who damaged Murphy’s laundry.  Of course, this only adds incentive to Doc’s desire to take Murphy down.

            The story is enjoyable, though rather lacking in the historic fact category.  Emilio Estevez is great as the dapper, self-absorbed and incredibly spontaneous, cold-blooded killer known as Billy the Kid.  Charlie Sheen is annoying as do-gooder Brewer.  Lou Diamond Phillips and Dermot Mulroney have some rather funny lines as two characters who put aside their hate for one another to get justice for the one man who showed them any respect.  Jack Palance is the quintessential dastardly villain every western must have.

            The special edition version of the film contains a documentary about the real Billy the Kid.  The documentary is basically an interview of “experts” on the Wild West and Billy the Kid which offers some insight into the events depicted in the movie.  Although loosely based on the real life gunslinger, Young Guns is somewhat accurate regarding the relationship of Billy the Kid and John Tunstall and Billy’s need for vengeance after Tunstall’s murder.  Of course, much of the information in the documentary is actually speculation based on accumulated and often conflicting tales passed down over the years, but it was all still pretty interesting.

            Although Young Guns is not exactly one of my favorite westerns, I did enjoy watching it again after all these years.  The documentary was a nice addition to the original film.  Fans of ‘80s actors will want this special edition DVD for their collection.  Fans of newer westerns will enjoy Estevez’s portrayal of Billy the Kid.  I’m not sure hardcore western fans will enjoy Young Guns as it veers slightly from the standard western film outline, but it’s worth a watch nonetheless if just for the gunfights.  I actually find myself wanting to see the sequel to the film. 


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