The Quick and the Dead (1995)

The Quick and the Dead (1995)
  • Time: 107 min
  • Genre: Action | Thriller | Western
  • Director: Sam Raimi
  • Cast: Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe, Leonardo DiCaprio


Ellen, an unknown female gunslinger rides into a small, dingy and depressing prairie town with a secret as to her reason for showing up. Shortly after her arrival, a local preacher, Cort, is thrown through the saloon doors while townfolk are signing up for a gun competition. The pot is a huge sum of money and the only rule: that you follow the rules of the man that set up the contest, Herod. Herod is also the owner, leader, and “ruler” of the town. Seems he’s arranged this little gun-show-off so that the preacher (who use to be an outlaw and rode with Herod) will have to fight again. Cort refuses to ever use a gun to kill again and Herod, acknowledging Cort as one of the best, is determined to alter this line of thinking … even if it gets someone killed.

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  • The plot of The Quick and the Dead goes something like this: laconic female gunslinger saunters into a town called Redemption and enters a quick draw contest to challenge the marshal responsible for her father’s death.

    Same old story? You bet, except our designated hero is a heroine. The concept is not exactly novel: last year we had the misfortune of having our movie theaters occupied by the western whore-fest Bad Girls; the year before the arthouse theaters presented The Ballad of Little Jo (or, as I like to refer to it, Orlando as a Western).

    Frankly, I find the trend inexplicable. A good Western comes along once a year, if we’re lucky. The roles are not particularly substantial. How many variations can one do on the western hero? Not many. All of the great performances — Gary Cooper in High Noon, John Wayne in The Searchers, Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott in Ride the High Country, and James Stewart in Winchester ’73 — have been given. Notwithstanding these actors’ deceivingly simple but complex portrayals, they possessed personality.

    Sharon Stone, whatever her illusions of grandeur, does not exactly abound in personality. Personality is an important safety net — it will carry you through the worst of films. Stone, arguably the highest paid non-actress of the day (Demi Moore comes a close second), poses rather than moves, making her akin to a living, breathing mannequin. Everything about her has grown alarmingly mannered, especially her vocal delivery (her grating come-hither husk of a voice registers lower and lower with each film).

    As the gun-toting Ellen, Stone appears with limp, brownish hair, face clenched, lips pursed in a grimace as if a grapefruit were lodged in her throat (oh, if only!). She somehow manages to parade around with her shirt unbuttoned to her navel. Her character is poorly written, the acting is even worse. The only thing that amazes is how Ellen could have had the prescience to pack away a fancy dress for her dinner with Herod, the man responsible for her father’s death.

    If only Stone possessed the steely grace of Madeleine Stowe (who nearly salvaged the aforementioned Bad Girls or the sultry, swaggering machismo that Linda Fiorentino displayed in The Last Seduction, she might have been a little believable. Stone needs a film to carry her and The Quick and the Dead is not that film. Stone’s blank presence bogs it down. However, the film is almost saved, and somewhat redeemed, by the inventive touch of director Sam Raimi. Although the movie loses some of its momentum towards the end, Raimi does his best to keep the tongue-in-cheek humor and action flowing. He is well-assisted by cinematographer Dante Spinotti, whose canted angles and rapid zoom-in shots enliven and energize the showdowns that comprise the majority of the film.

    The supporting actors capture the audience’s attention. Stone is no match for two-time Oscar winner Gene Hackman (The French Connection, Unforgiven), who acts circles around her as the deadly Herod. Herod is a man who lives for the quick draw. The smell of blood in the air fuels his very existence. Hackman (who, after appearing in Geronimo: An American Legend and the disastrous Wyatt Earp, better stop doing Westerns or at least start surfacing in more good ones) is as reliable as ever. His is a crackerjack portrayal.

    Hackman is well-matched by the lanky Leonardo DiCaprio (an Oscar nominee last year for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?). DiCaprio is the premier actor of his generation. He exudes an appealing, boyish charm as the Kid, Herod’s cocky son. “Is it possible to improve on perfection?” the Kid asks in mock modesty at one point. Despite the Kid’s bravery, DiCaprio reminds the audience that he is still very much a little boy seeking his father’s approval.

    Russell Crowe plays a reformed outlaw named Cort, who spends much of the film being dragged around in chains, thrown about, spat upon, and pelted with horse manure. He is adequate but if you want to see the full range of his talent, go rent the brilliant Australian film Proof.

    Apart from Stone’s performance, only Gary Sinise’s inexplicable cameo as her murdered father is irritating. Was Sinise in dire need of money? Was he in enormous debt? Did he owe someone a favor? Was he blackmailed? Whatever the reason, it does not explain or excuse his appearance here.

    By the way, Stone co-produced the film. Well, how multi-faceted of her.

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