The Quick and the Dead ★★★★

Westerns don’t tend to include women as anything more than prostitutes; nevertheless, The Quick and the Dead isn’t afraid to hand over the gun. It is the combination of a strong female center and the direction of Sam Raimi that makes this film just a bit different. The Quick and the Dead is without a doubt a western, but boy does it try hard not to be.

The tyrant John Herod (Gene Hackman) rules the Old West town of Redemption. The town hosts a single elimination gun-fighting contest with a grand prize of $123,000 that draws the best gunslingers around. Amongst these fighters is Ellen “The Lady” (Sharon Stone), The Kid (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Cort (Russell Crowe). The three all have their individual reasons for entering the tournament. The main plot follows The Lady who approaches the tournament seeking revenge on Herod for the murder of her father. The film is a medley of gunfights as every character tries to attain his personal goal.

As far as westerns go, The Quick and the Dead is able to check off all of the necessary boxes. There are horses, cowboys and guns at nearly everyone’s side. Even more to the point, the film looks like a western. Using a palette of primarily browns and yellows, the film is able to look dry and dirty. The Lady is the stranger that wanders into the town with plans of her own. Cort is the man who lived a life of crime and is now trying to do right by becoming a preacher and vowing to stop the violence he once thrived on, there are similarities to Clint Eastwood’s character in Pale Rider. From these observations, it is quite clear that when assigning The Quick and the Dead to a genre it is without a doubt a western. However, after watching there are notable touches that make it unlike your typical western.

Sam Raimi’s creative fingerprints are all over this film. If you are familiar with Raimi’s other films, especially Darkman or The Evil Dead trilogy, you will be able to spot his touches right away. There are quick zooms and odd camera angles left and right. This is where the problems arise. The style works for his other films, giving them that little something extra, but it doesn’t seem suited to a western. Luckily for Raimi, the film centers on a series of duels. The duel environment, unlike a sprawling journey western is more receptive to this style and although it still seems odd, it isn’t as jarring as it could have been. The film starts to feel more like a superhero comic taking place in the western world. There are moments where the quick zooms and odd angles actually work quite well for the film, but for the most part, it feels like Raimi is trying to shove a square peg into a round hole.

The premise of the film isn’t bad and the Lady’s revenge subplot, including an enjoyable twist about the death of her father, does add to the film. Some might be annoyed at the lack of some character development but in the case of Cort, it is done well. The viewer isn’t supposed to know much about Cort. The more mysterious the character is, the better he works within the constructs of the film. Cort is a true western character. Stone’s portrayal of the Lady is nothing special. Stone seems unsure of what she wants to do with the character. She constantly flips between strong and weak with very little reason. At one point, she chooses to flee the town, something I found completely ridiculous. Her decision comes out of nowhere and is pointless. Hackman’s Herod is deliciously evil and is similar to his role in Unforgiven. The story works, but Stone sure doesn’t.

On the surface, the film looks and feels like a western but it often tries not to be. Sam Raimi’s directorial style is clear and although it does make for some interesting moments is often more distracting than effective. Boasting an impressive cast list The Quick and the Dead is occasionally unfocused but entertaining all the way through.