1878 in New Mexico: John Tunstall picks up young gun men from the road to have them work on his ranch, but also to teach them reading and to civilize them. However he's a thorn in the side of the rich rancher Murphy, as he's a competitor in selling cattle. One day he's shot by Murphy's men. Judge Wilson can't do anything, since Sheriff Brady is one of Murphy's men. But attorney Alex persuades him to constitute Tunstall's young friends to Deputies and give them warrants of arrest for the murderers. Instead of arresting them, William Bonney just shoots them down. Soon the 5 guys become famous and William gets the name "Billie the Kid" - but they're also chased by dozens of Murphy's men and the army. The people however honor him as fighter for justice.
I was 12, maybe 13 years old. Me and a friend of mine just watched YOUNG GUNS and we thought it was the greatest thing in the world. We thought that everyone thought the same until we ended up talking with one of his uncles, who was having a few. We were telling him how we both thought it was a fantastic Western and how much we loved Emilio Estevez as Billy the Kid. That look on his face was priceless and he actually didn't need to say a thing. He both thought we were complete morons for thinking this. And because we was buzzing a little bit, he didn't hold back on how disappointed he was with us.
"Boys, you need to see some real Westerns. John Ford! John Wayne! Sergio Leone! Clint Eastwood! Those are talented people. Not Emilio or his brother with a different last name. Charlie something or other. Go to the video store and watch yourself some real Westerns. And get those heads out of your asses before you start believing in things that can cause others harm!"
This was my childhood lesson of how you do know what you don't know. The riddle that would haunt me for the rest of my life and make me a better person because of it (or at least I think so).
YOUNG GUNS was a great film in our eyes because we had nothing to compare it to. Imagine eating only potatoes and green beans your entire life. You'll survive and like the food when served in different ways. You like it because that's all you know. But you still like it because there is something in it that tastes good. You just don't know that there are many more things to taste that will be a lot better and a lot worse. And at the end of run of watching over 100 Westerns, YOUNG GUNS falls in the bottom 3rd of the peaking order. If it was a test, YOUNG GUNS would earn a failing grade. But if it was a test with my 13 year old perspective and movie life experience, YOUNG GUNS would earn an A+.
And that's the magic of storytelling. We love to listen to, read and watch stories and even the worst ones are better than none at all. So even though YOUNG GUNS isn't that great of a film, it was still better than no film at all.
Westerns appeal to people for some reason. It's that heroic aspect that's the key for sure, but it's also how action is always better than talk. None of our heroes talk much and always have their guns to do the talking for them. And it's usually the ones who talk too much that end of dying early.
There isn't much to YOUNG GUNS. It's about a group of kids who lose their mentor and need to learn how to develop themselves long before they are ready. And because of that you get a misfit like Billy the Kid. He's a natural character and wants to be one of those legends in the developing western United States. He's what you call an alpha male. And alpha males in the 1800s and alpha males today usually get their way. And Billy the Kid got his way while the other group of kids became followers.
If executed properly, this had the potential to be a really great film. But there's a lightweight feeling with YOUNG GUNS. Watch it and then watch THE GOOD, THE BAD and THE UGLY and you'll probably see what I mean. It's like watching Patrick Dempsey perform in On the Waterfront and then watching Marlon Brando do it. Dempsey is an okay actor, but he's no Brando. He's a lightweight. And that's what YOUNG GUNS is. A lightweight.
You never really believe that Emilio Esteves is this cold blooded killer Billy the Kid. Killing someone isn't in his eyes. It's fun watching him attempt it, but there's no way we can believe it. Imagine Christian Bale performing Billy the Kid. You see his toughness, his energy to destroy. Emilio doesn't have that inside of his soul. And just like Patrick Dempsey can't be Stanley Kowalski. They don't have that energy inside of them.
And from there, you can't take the film seriously. But from a 13 year old point of view, it works. Because Emilio never really scares you. YOUNG GUNS plays like a Saturday morning cartoon show. Fun to watch if you're in that frame of mind.