The Quick and the Dead (1995)
By: Julian on January 7, 2010  | 
DVD
Columbia Tristar (Australia), Region 4, PAL. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1, French DD 5.1. English Subtitles. 105 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Sam Raimi
Starring: Gene Hackman, Sharon Stone, Russell Crowe, Leonardo DiCaprio, Lance Henriksen, Gary Sinise, Tobin Bell
Screenplay: Simon Moore
Country: USA
External Links
Purchase IMDB YouTube
A recent viewing of Sam Raimi's almost-perfect horror-comedy Drag Me to Hell gave me a renewed urgency to seek The Quick and the Dead out after ignoring it on video shelves for far too long. The result was a mixed bag. The Quick and the Dead is, by and large, a good film, with fine performances by the ensemble cast (though some of the major players had yet to be confirmed Hollywood superstars) and a gleeful atmosphere. The only real problem that afflicts the film – and it's a major one – is how Raimi has transposed his visual style, which works in horror-comedies and blockbuster comic book adaptations, to a straight Western movie. Perhaps this is best seen as a maverick honing his craft for a more serious audience.

Sharon Stone, who co-produces, plays Ellen, a gunfighter who rides into the town of Redemption to avenge the killing of her father (Gary Sinise) by Redemption's despotic mayor Herod (Gene Hackman, in something of a step down from the frontier bad guy he played in Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven). Her plan is to participate in a quick-draw competition that has the town buzzing and whose participants include a preacher-turned-con (Russell Crowe), the fresh faced proprietor of a gun store (Leonardo DiCaprio), an arrogant gambler who slips an Ace into his deck for every man he kills (Lance Henriksen) and Herod himself. It's a one-note premise but the subsequent cavalcade of gunplay that serves merely to bridge the ultimate showdown between Ellen and Herod (or even the penultimate scene – the semi-final – which we know about half an hour into the film is going to pit two protagonists against each other) is written stylishly enough by Simon Moore so as to not seem stale.

The performances by Raimi's very solid ensemble cast are all top notch – a rustic Tobin Bell is hilarious in what might be the only other film in which I've seen the perennial Saw antagonist play more than a walk-in role, a pre-Titanic DiCaprio had yet to develop the acting chops that he presents in his Scorsese collaborations but he successfully plays (perhaps through no real talent of his own, and more autobiographically than he may care to acknowledge) the brash amateur and Sharon Stone does typically well as Tough Blonde Bombshell Mark 158. Hackman, Crowe and Henrikson are (as always) good value, as are the bit-parts: granted most are caricatures, but the American-Indian "unable to be killed by bullets" and the gun hired by the disgruntled townspeople to off Herod are both particularly good fun.

Dante Spinotti's cinematography captures Redemption's vibe to an extent, but it doesn't show us the unremittingly life-denying character of the frontier like, say, (to use a chronologically proximate example), Robby Müller's photography for Dead Man. It's clear that Raimi is out to be lighter, avoiding any sort of existentialism or philosophising that Jarmusch tackled in that film, but by all intents and purposes, Raimi appears to want to make a straight movie. And while there's no comedy here, overt or otherwise (save for perhaps the shadow death scene or some jarringly ridiculous Evil Deadite violence), the visuals used more resemble Evil Dead II than what Western genre conventions may comfortably allow. Raimi's evident desire to make a straight Western, without the intellectual baggage of early nineties classics like Dead Man or Unforgiven, is not conducive to how the film looks. All of the techniques he used in Evil Dead II (and replicated in Drag Me to Hell) are repeated here: extreme zooms of the foreground on a static background, extreme zooms with the camera on a 45 degree angle, laughing heads appearing on a black background, et al. It doesn't fit with the tone of the film and makes it unintentionally funny – or at least recalls his earlier work, which was meant to be funny. It's a shame, and I'm torn between two conclusions: either Raimi didn't know any better at this stage (later films A Simple Plan and The Gift proved that he could successfully remove these visual eccentricities), or he was being deliberately self-indulgent. Either way, The Quick and the Dead's impact is diminished, preventing it from being one of the highlights of nineties Western genre cinema.

Simon Moore's script moves fast enough for the audience to forget they're watching a one-trick pony, as quick-draw heats turn to quick-draw quarter-finals, which turn to quick-draw semi-finals, which turn to the quick-draw final, then cue end credits. It's relatively short at 105 minutes and Raimi's direction, if nothing else, commands attention, and he has a good grasp on his actors. It's a fundamentally flawed film, but there is a lot of fun to be had with The Quick and the Dead. It's been a long time coming for this reviewer and, generally speaking, it didn't disappoint.
Video
Presented in 1.85:1, with 16:9 enhancement. It looks good, vibrant and clear.
Audio
Two Dolby 5.1 audio tracks in English and French, which sound terrific. Alan Silvestri's swelling score is fitting, but nothing new.
Extra Features
This DVD was released in 1998 and, while the AV quality is good, it's devoid of extras – and the one it does have, a theatrical trailer, is proudly boasted on the back cover sleeve. At almost twelve years old, this is due for a re-release on Region 4.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
The Quick and the Dead is good, wholesome fun. From Gene Hackman's gloriously overplayed sadist to Crowe's uncharacteristic turn as a misunderstood ex-man of the cloth, Raimi's film showcases top performances in a good-spirited entry to the Western genre. What's unfortunate is that Raimi seems torn between filming an Evil Dead-inspired Wild West picture, replete with gaping flesh wounds and swirling camera work, and creating a straight genre film. Regardless, and even with this directorial schizophrenia, The Quick and the Dead is worth watching - just don't take it too seriously.

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