With a stellar cast of Hollywood A listers including such familiar names as Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, Charlie Sheen, Jack Palance and the God that is Terence Stamp this 1988 movie from writer John Fusco and director Christopher Cain was a massive hit when it was first released and has lost none of it’s power.
Set in the wild wild west of 1878 in New Mexico, the story revolves around John Tunstall, a philanthropic type who collects together young gunslingers and gives them work on his ranch, whilst also educating them, teaching them to read and write and generally helping them to better themselves. One black day, Tunstall is shot by men working for his biggest competitor, Murphy. The lawmen cannot do anything about the killing since the sheriff is in Murphy’s employ but Alex, a young attorney persuades the judge to make Tunstall’s men all deputies in order that they might bring Murphy and his pack to justice. Things don’t quite work out that way as the men, insane with rage at the shooting of their mentor embark on a revenge killing, with their leader, William becoming known as Billy the Kid. The men become famous and the people are on their side, but Murphy isn’t going to give up that easily and sends his own men to hunt them down and kill them. If they can.
The tale of Billy the Kid is well known and this retelling isn’t the most historically accurate document ever but who cares about that when there is such high octane action on screen and some excellent performances. Terence Stamp stands out as the gang’s patriarchal figure and Estevez makes for an excellent and believable Billy the kid, playing the famous outlaw with subtlety and power. Jack Palance is always excellent of course and here he gives a real relish to his portrayal of Murphy, a force to be reckoned with. The direction puts the viewer in mind of the great old classic westerns and revels in its rich heritage. The pace never drags for a moment and the whole movie is excellently constructed, a good solid story well told by all. Even if you don’t like westerns, this one is worth seeing.
Director: Christopher Cain
Writer: John Fusco
Stars: Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland and Lou Diamond Phillips
Release Date: 6 January 1989 (UK)