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USA 1995
Directed by
Sam Raimi
107 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

The Quick And The Dead

How does one neatly characterize Sam Raimi's quirky little film? It’s a Western with plenty of the familiar elements but no intention of taking itself seriously. It’s not a spoof like Blazing Saddles (1974) or a parody, like Silverado (1985). It is however is a lot of fun and although relatively modest as a production, wonderfully well made. 

Writer Simon Moore takes what is probably the most fundamental feature of the Western, the gunfight, and elevates it to pretty much the entire substance of the film with one of the genre’s staple characters, the frontier town tyrant, at the end of one gun and at the other his undoing, only this time in the guise of a spunky young woman (Sharon Stone), a switch that gives the film a good deal of spice.

Stone is credited as a producer and was the main driver behind the project.  She can be well-satisfied by the results (bar the ticket sales which were lacklustre). Raimi up to that time known largely for zombie movies  and who would become a household name as the director of the Spiderman franchise delivers the script with wit and style, Stone looks great thanks to cinematographer, Dante Spinotti, and thanks to Moore also gets to fire off some snappy lines of dialogue as she brings down the bad guys.

Ellen has come to a tin-pot town run by a ruthless stand-over merchant, John Herod (Gene Hackman) to take part in an annual shoot-out with real bullets in which the last man (or woman) standing wins a large cash prize. Ellen’s target, however, is not the money but Herod for reasons which we will, needless to say, discover.  Also taking part in the competition is The Kid (Leonardo DiCaprio) and The Preacher (Russell Crowe), a former colleague of Herod who has forsaken his evil ways much to Herod’s displeasure.

Hackman, reprising his Little Bill from Unforgiven (1992), and Stone are both effective in usual black hat versus white hat opposition,  DiCaprio who was twenty-one at the time but looks much younger was on the way up and gives an engaging performance (apparently Stone paid his salary). I was less convinced by Crowe, also on the career ascent but showing little evidence of his inner cowboy.

There are flaws, like too much time spent on flashbacks to Ellen’s traumatic childhood but they are few and if you like your films with a well-developed sense of self-awareness The Quick and the Dead should please.

FYI: 1995 was probably the peak of Stone's career as she was also nominated for Best Actress for her performance in Casino (the Oscar went to Susan Sarandon for Dead Man Walking).




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