Film Review - The Quick and the Dead (1995)
'The Quick and the Dead' is a Sam Raimi directed Western made in 1995, long after the supposed golden age of the genre. It is, like so many other Westerns, a straightforward story, but with a novel plotline. The scriptwriter Simon Moore has taken one staple ingredient of the cowboy movies of old - the duel - and made it the centrepiece action for the entire 107 minutes.
'The Quick and the Dead' features a memorable four character cast which includes one long established and respected Hollywood star, one young actress who, though rather notorious at the time, was also a major player in front of and behind the camera lens, and two young actors who would soon emerge as two of the biggest stars in the business.
The four actors are Gene Hackman, Sharon Stone, Russell Crowe and Leonardo di Caprio.
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WHAT'S THE STORY?
Redemption is a small Western town under the control of a vicious overlord called Herod. What Herod says, goes. And he has said there is going to be a gunslinging tournament in which 16 of the fastest guns around will shoot it out in properly organised duels for the pleasure and gratification of the people, and for the gratification of Herod himself. For the ultimate winner, there will be a stack of prize money. And for the losers - well, if they are very lucky - they will live.
The 16 fighters are a mixed bunch, but four stand out from the rest. One is a preacher with a bad past, forced into the contest against his will by Herod. He is named Cort. One is a very young gunslinger, appropriately known as The Kid, who seems super fast, and super confident. The third is a woman called Ellen, who seems to be hiding a bitter secret. She has got her own reasons for entering this contest, and it has got nothing to do with money. As the only female, she is known simply as 'Lady'. The fourth of these entrants is Herod himself, who is not only rich and powerful, but also very quick.
That, basically, is almost the whole of the story of this film. All that is left to discover is Ellen's secret. And just who is the fastest gun in Redemption?
MAIN CAST & CHARACTERS
Ellen or 'Lady'
Leonardo di Caprio
Sgt. Clay Cantrell
THE FACTS OF THE FILM
DIRECTOR : Sam Raimi
WRITERS / SCREENPLAY :
- Simon Moore
YEAR OF RELEASE : 1995
RUNNING TIME : 107 mins
GENRE : Western
GUIDENCE : Brief nudity. Mild violence and gore.
ACADEMY NOMINATIONS : None
BEST CHARACTERS / PERFORMANCES
The characters played by the four leads are Herod (Hackman), Ellen, or 'Lady' (Stone), Cort (Crowe), and The Kid (DiCaprio). All are favourite cliches of the Western genre - respectively they are the ruthless land baron who owns and runs the town, the pretty woman who in this movie also happens to be a crackshot, the quiet confident gunslinger, and the slick young gun - the sharpshooting kid. All are played more than adequately by the actors.
But all the other assorted characters who turn up for this contest to kill or be killed are likewise characters which could be found in any of a hundred movies set in the Wild West. There’s an unpleasantly smooth and arrogant showman called ‘Ace’, there’s a tough Indian warrior with the aura of a man who ’cannot be killed’, there's a brutal escaped convict, and an ultra cool, ex-soldier who calmly puffs on a long pipe. Almost any one of them could play the main lead, or more probably the main villain, in almost any Western ever made.
SPECIAL FEATURE - SHARON STONE
I’d like to draw particular attention to Sharon Stone. I suspect that this actress has never really been taken seriously by many ever since that notorious scene in ‘Basic Instinct’ for which she is best known. The first three films I ever saw Stone act in were the aforementioned ‘Basic instinct’, ‘King Solomon’s Mines’ and this film. In King Solomon’s Mines - a comedy adventure - she plays a ditzy dolly bird dropped like a fish out of water into the African bush. In ‘Basic Instinct’ she plays an ultra-intelligent mind-game playing suspect in a serial killer investigation, and if one looks beyond the gratuitous nudity, she actually gives an utterly convincing performance as a cold and manipulative individual. In ’The Quick and the Dead’, her role is once again entirely different; a serious minded woman hell-bent on revenge against a man who once destroyed her life. Perhaps the level of acting skill required in these films is not great, but all three parts are so very different from each other and she plays each as well as it can be played. In the same year as this Western was made, recognition came with an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe award for the film 'Casino'. What's more, in this film Stone was a major role player behind the scenes as well as in front of the camera (see trivia), and away from her acting, she is known to be a person of high intellect. Sharon Stone is not some dumb sex Goddess; she is a versatile and clever actress.
Perhaps the line which encompasses best what this film is all about, and how this dueling contest can take place in this town, is delivered by John Herod, who authorizes it and dicatates what exactly will happen. He has just learned that one of the 16 was hired by the townsfolk specifically to kill him:
'All I hear from you, you spineless cowards, is how poor you are; how you can't afford my taxes. Yet somehow, you managed to find the money to hire a gunfighter to kill me. If you've got so much money, I'm just gonna have to take some more, because clearly some of you haven't got the message. This is my town! I run everything! If you live to see the dawn, it's because I allow it. I decide who lives and who dies!'
Sharon Stone's acting abilities are discussed above. In this film, she also has significant other responsibilities. Stone was signed on as co-producer of The Quick and the Dead, and as such she wielded very considerable influence. First, she insisted on Sam Raimi as director. Second, she insisted on casting of two relatively unknown actors - Russell Crowe and Leonardo di Caprio - in major roles. In the case of Di Caprio, she even voluntered to personally pay his salary.
All the 'gunfighters' received tuition in the skill of quick draw. The actor who practised most and proved in reality to be the fastest gun in the movie was ......... Gene Hackman.
Another Western - also called 'The Quick and the Dead' - was released as a TV movie in 1987 starring Sam Elliott. The story is unrelated.
All the gunfights are worth watching. The outcomes for the most part are fairly predictable, although it gets a little harder to foresee what will happen when the final four line up against each other. The rules of the gunfight contest decree that only one should be left standing at the end, but it is difficult to figure out how that can be, especially when Cort has to fight Ellen - who both seem like good guys - to the death!
The biggest negative is perhaps a point already made - this film stands or falls on the suspense to be had from watching a duel between two ace gunfighters; that suspense is severely diluted when it's pretty obvious which one is going to win, and in most of these contests, it is pretty obvious.
The other negative I think is the silliness of some of the gunfights. One character shot with a single bullet ends up with a neat round bullet-sized hole through the chest which allows daylight to shine through. Nothing like that could happen in real life. Another goes one better - he ends up with a hole in the head the size of a baseball, which would allow a veritable sunbeam to shine through!
Of course the whole concept of a town holding an insane do or die contest like this seems pretty far fetched even by bloody Wild West standards.
My advice is; accept the silliness and enjoy the action, or don't watch!
IF YOU LIKE THIS FILM ...
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WHAT'S SO GOOD ABOUT IT?
I don’t think we should make more of this film than meets the eye. There’s no deep underlying morality, nothing special about the screenplay or acting. It’s just a nice simple story of 15 men and one woman shooting each other one by one until one is left. The duel in the street is one of the mainstays of the Western movie genre affording as it does the basic pleasure of seeing two people slugging it out as equals. But usually it’s a one-off battle, the climax and highlight of the movie. In this film there’s about a dozen featured duels, so the whole film is filled with highlights. Perhaps not really the most edifying of themes; for all that watching ‘The Quick and the Dead’ is an enjoyable way of passing the time with four of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
‘The Quick and the Dead’ is the sort of film I like. It’s a well made film with decent performances by all involved both in front of the camera and behind. It’s not going to require some hard work to understand the plot - the plot is as simple as it gets. If you can get past thinking about the banal storyline and just enjoy the action for what it is, then you’ll enjoy this movie.
SOME OF MY OTHER WESTERN FILM REVIEWS.....
- The Big Country
The Big Country is a savage indictment of the cliched Wild West philosophy of men who believe it is right to live by the gun and settle disputes in a terminal way. Everyone's opinion is personal, but my opinion is that this is a great movie