The Quick & The Dead

(USA - 1995)

by Vanes Naldi, Dan McGowan & Mike Lorefice

Cast: Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobin Bell, Keith David, Lance Henriksen, Gary Sinise, Woody Strode
Genre: Western
Director: Sam Raimi
Screenplay: Simon Moore
Cinematography: Dante Spinotti
Composer: Alan Silvestri
Runtime: 105 minutes

Vanes: Like most westerns, the story is as predictable as they come, but that doesn't necessarily stop them from being quality. The cast is impressive on paper, and generally performs well, but there are high and lows: Russell Crowe and Gene Hackman give great performances that really "make" the movie. Crowe is perfect as the silent former-outlaw who is trying to redeem himself, but gets lured into this cynic and brutal game by his former colleague who is trying to prove that he's still a killer.

Mike: Crowe's role is similar to the one he plays in Gladiator in that it's mainly done with facial acting. The difference is you care about him here.

Vanes: Hackman is just great; a perfect villain. Everything he says and does is so believable and effective, yet he never goes over the top. Leonardo Di Caprio is pretty good, but kind of wasted since the role only needed a pretty boy who could act cocky.He's pretty good and shows range, but up until the end pretty much nothing is done to make us care about him.

Mike: Di Caprio has been very wise in selecting parts that he can play. He rarely shows much range (The Basketball Diaries is an exception), but he's almost always impressive in his limited role (The Beach is an exception).

Vanes: Sharon Stone is a disappointment. To explain her performance could just look at her name:"Stone". She didn't show any range whether she was crying, acting "tough" or Eastwood like.

Mike: She's very hit and miss here. She's always good when it comes to attitude, and she can deliver her one liners in a manner that backs up her characters toughness. When she strays from the hardness though, her performance drops off noticeably.

Vanes: There are other good things about this movie, starting from Dante Spinotti's fascinating photography. Everything looks wonderful and is effectively caught on camera. The costumes are good. The soundtrack by Alan Silvestri has a Morricone feeling and helps the movie in some sequences even though it doesn't quite reach the power and feeling of any of Ennio's works. There are also the usual Raimi "touches", like the nonsensical holes in the bodies after a gun shot and the fact that men withstand several shots, even HEAD shots, and they still get up.

Mike: The plot is really predictable and awfully basic; it's pretty much just a shoot outs and one liners. There's little substance here, and there's no real drama or suspense. A lot of Raimi's stuff is too goofy for me. It's maybe three quarters serious and one quarter of total cornball, so in the end you can't take it too seriously but at the same time you can't laugh at it too much. The whole production is very strong like you said though, particularly the typically awesome cinematography. It's not good enough to make the movie worthwhile on it's own, but along with the acting and the fact that it's entertaining, I can kind of say it's worthwhile.

Vanes: Hackman, Crowe and the great photography make this movie entertaining, but there are enough flaws to dislike it. This ain't Sam Peckinpah nor Sergio Leone. Overall, the film was both underrated and overrated. It's overrated by Sam Raimi fans who try to justify the "style" that he uses in his flicks. They portray his western as a fun diversion, and a parody of the genre. It's underrated because even though there are colossal flaws, it's still a pretty entertaining movie.

Dan: I don't know many people who 'overrate' this film, mainly because it came and went even though Westerns generally aren't made much anymore, and you'd think when one is released it would undergo more scrutiny. The problem I have with your statement is that Raimi's style doesn't need to be justified at all. Raimi is a director that always shows me new visual images in his films. Even if the script is generally disappointing and the acting is bad (Stone and Di Caprio stand out as bad while Crowe, Henricksen, and Hackman excel). Actually, Di Caprio isn't that bad as the cocky kid, but he's probably just playing himself and I've never liked his work so I may be biased. :)

Raimi does some incredible things with the shootouts that keeps the material interesting. The zooms to the huge clock during the shootouts are in theory technically nothing new except the flair that Raimi employs such as the quick swish pans and even faster zooms to the minute hand for example serve to create a nice sense of anticipation which is fun to watch. As far as the bullet hole scenes go, I loved them. Exaggerated? Of course, but if you went into a Raimi film wanting to see subdued violence you are going to the wrong movie. I guess I just see more than 'goofiness' in it.

Raimi is a director in the Grand Guignol tradition, and I never thought someone could translate that to a Western and get a smile from me like he does in those scenes. Watching light rays filter through a gunshot wound is certainly unrealistic, but it is an effect you can't take your eyes off for sheer niftyness and verve on Raimi's part. Being a big fan of the Evil Dead Trilogy and getting the 'goofiness' of those I guess I was more receptive to Raimi's flair than you were. He's a very energetic and kinetic director, but
unlike a weaker director such as Baz Luhrmann (Romeo and Juliet) or the fool who directed Charlie's Angels who both move the camera for no reason, his flair and movement serve a point - in this case to ratchet up the intensity of mano a mano shootouts which is the focal point of the film. His fast zooms coincide exactly with each strike of the minute hand, creating a nice mix of sound and image that builds the tension before each shootout, especially because you know you are going to see something new each time visually post-flying bullets. The story of a gunfighter competition is pretty spare, so Raimi has to bring the goods because Stone's background isn't going to hold my interest much no matter how tragic the writer made it. In my opinion, Raimi brought the goods directorially.

Despite a workmanlike script and poor lead acting job, Hackman and Crowe do a good job. The one thing that hurt this movie is that we've seen Hackman play a sick bastard in Unforgiven, and his role in this isn't too far removed from that superior film, so you can't help but think of Eastwood's and Hackman's triumph while watching this. Hackman, though, does what he can to bring an even more vile presence and if it weren't for Unforgiven, we'd probably be calling this one of the best bad guy turns in a while. Crowe is
also very good as the former killer who is now pacifist/padre. In movies like this we all know the pacifist character isn't going to last as one (whether forced into killing or not), so it takes some considerable skill to still create poignant scenes where you almost don't want him to stop being a pacifist.:P

All in all, because of Hackman, Crowe (who was very good in Gladiator), and Raimi's good work I'd give this 3 stars. I love Westerns. While not one of the best, it was a movie that was not that ambitious but was happy just to revel in the conventions it so loved and managed to hold my interest quite a bit. I rate it higher because I've always liked the chances Raimi's taken. Bringing his style into a Western was a tall order, and I think he pulled it off as well as possible without it calling too much attention to itself and interfering with the movie.




* Copyright 2001 - Raging Bull Movie Reviews *