At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Quick and the Dead “95”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Western/ Stars: Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe, Leonardo DiCaprio, Pat Hingle, Kevin Conway, Keith David, Lance Henriksen, Mark Boone Junior, Tobin Bell, Olivia Burnette, Roberts Blossom, Gary Sinise, Scott Spiegel, Woody Strode, Bruce Campbell/ Runtime: 105 minutes

If you ever ask anyone what comes to mind when they think of Sam Raimi, I think it is safe to say that a pair of words are what immediately pop up in their minds: “Horror” and Spider-Man”…..oh and maybe just maybe “Bruce Campbell,” as well. Suffice it to say however that with his Spider-Man trilogy making in quite a bit of money, and Raimi mostly known for his work in the Horror genre, it is quite understandable that the one time, to date, that Raimi dared to venture into the Western genre of moviemaking that it resulted in a lot of people tragically passing by it especially when looking at the other work that he has done. Nevertheless, I feel that this should not be the case. I say this because The Quick and the Dead, equipped with perhaps the most top-flight cast Raimi has ever had the privilege of working alongside including Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Russell Crowe among others is not only a rousing time to be had, but Rami has managed to insert into the film such a high degree of amusement, energy, and classic tropes from the Western genre that in all honesty this film truly only has one issue: the fact that as sad as it may be, eventually the film has to conclude.

The plot is as follows: The Quick and the Dead starts as we witness a solitary female figure as she rides her way into a town known as Redemption, and which is distinct for towns in that this one seems to have a population count that is always shrinking or at the least in some state of flux. The reason for this is because Redemption is a truly lawless locale where the odor of a speedy demise resides in the air and the town mortician is quick to size up every newcomer that rides on into town. We soon learn that this mystery woman has arrived in town for the purpose of competing in a shooting contest known as the Quick Draw Competition. This is an event in town which pits the best gunslingers against each other in a say-all, end-all single-elimination tournament. The rules for this particular tournament are simple: the first person to be injured (or killed) is out, and the other gets to make it to the next round. However if you decide to draw or fire your gun before the clock strikes at the top of the hour, you will be promptly shot by a group of hired sharpshooters scattered throughout and assigned to watch over the combat zone. Finally if you somehow manage to survive all the way to the end and win, you will receive no less than $123,000, courtesy of Western Union (I’m guessing) and the man who runs the town with an iron fist named John Herod. Of course, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to find out that Herod wouldn’t hold this tournament if he didn’t think he had an overwhelmingly great chance that he would win the bloody thing and keep the prize money all for himself. You see Herod is the town godfather of sorts in that he takes 50% of the profit that is earned by the good townsfolk and manages to keep them in line and afraid through his gun slinging skill to say nothing of his army of hired mercenaries who are armed to the very teeth. Thus with a decent amount of competitors out to win this contest including a sharpshooting yet arrogant young gunslinger known only as “The Kid”, and a pacifist reverend with a secret or 3 hidden in his boots being reluctantly forced into the mix, suffice it to say that the stakes are high, the odds are nowhere close to being in any particular person’s favor, and the guns are loaded and ready to go….

Now it is worth noting that The Quick and the Dead is a character-oriented Western that manages to construct a whole film around one of the unquestionable trademarks of the genre of which it is a part: the duel. Indeed even though this is one part that is usually saved for the climatic face-off between the hero and the villain on the dusty streets of the town, the film decides to change this up and instead puts its eclectic cast of distinct characters up against one another during the course of the entire film, each with their individual motivations and all part of a diverse and intriguing group that contribute quite a bit of vibrant energy to the film. Indeed there is the quiet yet vengeful one, the cocky yet skilled youth, the sponsor/town tyrant, the reverend who’s skilled yet has withdrawn from violence, a difficult to kill Native American, and a gunslinger from Sweden among others. Yet even though 123 thousand dollars should prove to be enough incentive to compete, there are a few who are in this for reasons that have nothing to do with money. Indeed this is a film which builds a narrative on the back of some intriguing character developments that I shall not spoil herein. All I will say is that they do a good job at adding a lovely layer of suspense, unease, and legit surprise to the film and actually manage to further add to the suspense present in some of the more crucial gunfights that are part of the final act of the movie as we quickly, at the breakneck speed of a bullet train, head to the inevitable final showdowns.

Thankfully, this film possesses a wonderful set of talent that isn’t just there based on their name alone thus providing the film with a fancy exterior. Indeed, for a film that had a budget of about 32 million, The Quick and the Dead actually manages to possess quite a phenomenal line-up, and every actor manages to deliver a brilliant turn in this. A cast that includes Sharon Stone in one of the last genuinely good roles she had, alongside Casino, in the wake of her success in Basic Instinct, screen icon Gene Hackman doing what Hackman did best and turning in a perfect performance as the town tyrant who may be ruthless, but at least he has fun while being so, and early yet still terrific roles from Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe as an arrogant yet skilled youthful gunslinger and the reluctantly forced into the game reverend respectively. Indeed this is one cast that manages to not only fully embrace their characters, but also have a terrific comprehension of the material and what their iconic director wants them to do within it. As such we get a very smooth and quite realistic film where every actor involved takes away the Hollywood spotlight that shines on them and adopts a more rough and gritty attitude that would enable them to fit in perfectly in a Wild West town such as Redemption. Yet even more remarkable about this cast, besides the level of Oscar-caliber talent making up the main four main cast members, is the quality of the supporting cast backing them up. A cast that includes no less than Keith David, Lance Henriksen, Gary Sinise, Kevin Conway, Tobin Bell, Pat Hingle, and Roberts Blossom. Indeed suffice it to say then that The Quick and the Dead is honestly one of the more packed films I have seen here recently and honestly the film is better because of it and because everyone involved is giving no less than 110%.

Yet even though the film is blessed with some truly incredible performances from a wonderful group of acting talent, it’s safe to say that the true highlight is the work done by Sam Raimi himself in the director’s chair. Indeed he manages to showcase the Western in all of its glory. Indeed he never makes fun of this storied genre, but rather lovingly utilizes all of its tropes to incredible effect including quite a few close-up shots of the gunslingers’ focused and zeroed in gazes and their steady hands as they prepare to fire their guns at each other as well as speedy zooms, faster-than-the-roadrunner cuts, and several unique camera angles in order to ensure that the movie is made in the distinct Western format. In addition to all of that, Raimi also contributes a lovely amount of suspense to everything going on to the extent that each duel feels like its own separate movie. Yes, to be fair, Raimi does overplay some of the more dramatic ingredients in the movie and a few do come off as awfully close to cartoonish, but in hindsight they’re still handled fairly well. Indeed even when you know how one of the film’s duel sequences is going to go down, Raimi still manages to provide a fair amount of suspense to every single moment. Yet even with that being said, the iconic director somehow manages to save his best for the last act of the film. Indeed it may not exactly be surprising to see just who exactly is left standing, but somehow Raimi still manages to lead the audience along into still thinking that there are quite a few ways the movie could possibly end. Plus when you include absolutely fantastic work in regards to the set and the design of the cast’ costumes and an iconic score that feels at home in the Western genre, it really can be said that The Quick and the Dead is a truly complete movie to say nothing of the fact that it doesn’t get nearly half as much recognition as it truly deserves.

All in all I think it is safe to say that The Quick and the Dead is an absolute blast and fun from start to finish. This is most likely because it is absolutely clear as day that the cast and crew all had a truly fun and wonderful time when making this film. Indeed even though this is a serious film in many respects, it manages to offer audiences a lighter tone, but not light enough that both the unease and the anxiety surrounding the various gunfights plus the perils and motivations of the cast of characters aren’t taken seriously. Indeed it’s wonderfully and capably helmed by Sam Raimi, terrifically performed by a truly amazing and talented cast, and providing fans of the Western genre everything they could ask for and then some, The Quick and the Dead is easily a fine film to say nothing of the fact that it is an overlooked gem in one of the world of movie magic’s most storied genres. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Quick and the Dead a solid 3.5 out of 5.