The Quick and the Dead

A Film Review by James Berardinelli

U.S. Availability: wide release on 2/10/95
Running Length: 1:45
MPAA Classification: R (Violence, language, mature themes)

Starring: Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe, Leonardo DiCaprio
Director: Sam Raimi
Producers: Joshua Donen, Allen Shapiro, and Patrick Markey
Screenplay: Simon Moore
Cinematography: Dante Spinotti
Music: Alan Silvestri
Released by TriStar Pictures

If movies were rated solely on the basis of style, The Quick and the Dead would score highly indeed. With its dazzling photography, inventive camera angles, and throbbing bass score, the film is an experience for the eyes and ears. Director Sam Raimi (Darkman, Army of Darkness) and cinematographer Dante Spinotti have woven a beautifully elaborate tapestry: colorful and evocative -- and depressingly two-dimensional.

The spaghetti Western is not a genre that lends itself to great leaps of originality. Even the best of this genre tend to follow fairly familiar patterns. The Quick and the Dead is no exception --indeed, it's so predictable that there's almost no opportunity for tension. Raimi's choice to give the film a comic book-like aura of mingled camp and grit makes for some fitfully energetic and entertaining moments, but it's not enough to overcome The Quick and the Dead's primary fault.

Surprise isn't always necessary, of course, as long as there's a decent dramatic underpinning to the story. Such was the case in Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven. In The Quick and the Dead, however, we have Sharon Stone in the lead role and, while she's good at looking peeved and delivering deadpan one-liners, her emotional range is limited. During a scene where she's crying in a graveyard, it's difficult for those in the audience to avoid grimacing. And where exactly did she get those designer sunglasses?

Stone plays Ellen, a female gunslinger who's out for blood. At the outset, we don't know exactly why (although it's possible to make a pretty good guess or two), but she's after John Herod (Gene Hackman), possibly the fastest gun around. Herod, along with fifteen others, has enrolled in the town of Redemption's quick-draw contest. The prize to the winner is $123,000, but Ellen is concerned far less about the money than her revenge. Now, all she has to do is bide her time and eliminate a few unsavory opponents along the way to a confrontation with Herod. Only one problem, though: she's scared to kill anyone.

Gene Hackman is, as usual, a joy to watch, even though he is essentially resurrecting a somewhat over-the-top version of Little Bill from Unforgiven. Leonardo DiCaprio continues to show promise in a supporting role as Herod's unloved offspring, and Russell Crowe gives The Quick and the Dead's best straight performance as a gunslinger-turned-preacher-turned-gunslinger-again.

Depending on how you count them, there are eleven or twelve gunfights in The Quick and the Dead. While these street duels are necessary staples of the Western, this film has a few too many and, despite Raimi's use of different angles and techniques, they get tiring long before the predictable, climactic showdown. All the nice "little" touches, such as the townspeople stripping corpses and a sight gag involving holes in bodies, don't make up for this repetition. The script just doesn't offer enough variety.

There's a lot of movement in The Quick and the Dead, but it's usually a case of going nowhere fast. While the film is too slick and flashy to allow boredom, there's little in the way of substance. Beneath the brightly-polished surface sheen, The Quick and the Dead shows a distressingly hollow interior -- and that's an unfortunate epitaph for any film's tombstone.

1995 James Berardinelli