Monday, January 31, 2011

The Quick and the Dead (1995)

Title: The Quick and the Dead (1995)

Director: Sam Raimi

Cast: Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe, Leonardo DiCaprio, Lance Henriksen, Keith David, Tobin Bell, Gary Sinise


The Quick and the Dead isn’t one of those films that purely emerged from the mind and imagination of director Sam Raimi. It wasn’t like Evil Dead (1981) or Darkman (1990) both of which were films born and bred in Sam Raimi’s brain. Nope, on The Quick and the Dead Sam Raimi was a director for hire. He was personally chosen by Sharon Stone herself for this film because she loved what he did on Army of Darkness (1993). So here was Sam Raimi, coming out of the moderate success of Army of Darkness, doing his first “director for hire” picture. How did it go?

An awesome cast makes this an awesome western!

The Quick and the Dead centers around a shoot out contest that takes place in the Western town of Redemption. This contest attracts a varied group of gunmen from all over the Old West. The twist comes when we find out that one of these gunmen is actually a gun woman who goes by the name of ‘Lady’. She signs up for the contest but doesn’t reveal the true nature of her plans: exacting sweet revenge on the man who was responsible for the death of her father! It just so happens that this man is the towns mayor; an abusive politician named Herod who squeezes tons of tax money from peoples pockets and lives a life of luxury at their expense. Will she ever muster up the courage needed to go up against Herod and his men? Will she ever get the revenge that she came for?

One of the things that makes The Quick and the Dead special is the fact that it has a female lead in the role; normally western films have a male lead in them. I figure studios think females don’t really give a damn about cowboy movies so why make one with a female lead? But this one was just a little different. It has an ass kicking female playing the lead character in the form of Sharon Stone, who's one tough cookie on this movie. Though many of the men in Redemption enlists in the contest, somebody protests saying that ladies shouldn’t be allowed to enter. Herod, the towns mayor played by a scene stealing Gene Hackman says “we don’t have nothing against ladies entering the contest, it’s just that ladies can’t shoot for shit!” All the men in the room laugh when he says this. It's right then and there that , and Lady proceeds to show them what she’s made off by shooting her gun faster and quicker then all of them thought she could. So this movie is different that way. Sharon Stone carries the whole film on her shoulders. She’s the ‘Blondie’ of this film. She smokes a thin cigar, says very little and answers almost everything in two syllables. To her credit I will say that she was appropriately bad ass in this film, equal parts sexy and tough.

Sadly, this film was a complete bomb at the box office and an abysmal failure for Sam Raimi who started to doubt his abilities as a director. “I felt like I was a dinasour. That I couldn’t change with each film” But Im guessing that wasn’t the case. Raimi remains a great stylist in my book, he’s kind of lost touch with that in his recent films (Spider Man 3 and Drag Me to Hell) but Im hopeful that he still has a couple of great films in him. The failure of this film can be attributed to a common ailment in action films: having a female in the lead in a genre whose target audience is mostly males. I don’t get this because, shouldn’t guys be happy to get a western with an incredibly beautiful actress in the lead role? But whatever, films like Supergirl (1984), Red Sonja (1985), Barb Wire (1996), Elektra (2005), Aeon Flux (2005), Catwoman (2004) and Ultraviolet (2006), with very rare exceptions, continue to bomb at the box office. But of course, this could have to do something with the fact that these movies are pretty bad to begin with. I guess the real question would be why doesn’t Hollywood make better films with female heroes in them? You make a good action film, with a female lead and it will be a hit just as much as the ones with male leads in them. Look at Salt (2010) and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001), two examples of successful action films with a female playing the lead.

Sam Raimis stylish direction remains a major asset of this film

But forget that noise; Sharon Stone in The Quick and the Dead was bad ass. This film not finding its audience was a real tragedy because, not only is this film a great western, it’s also one of Sam Raimi’s best films. At least in my book it is. When Sharon Stone (one of the films producers) chose Raimi as the director for this project, she thought that Raimi showed promise in Army of Darkness and that The Quick and the Dead was going to be the film where he could really come full circle and fine tune his directorial skills, which he achieved wonderfully as far as Im concerned. The film is filled with many signature Sam Raimi camera moves. The lightning flash zoom in, quick camera moves and odd angles make this one a stylish western. Raimi gives it his own distinctive style by placing the camera in extremely interesting places. Like for example when characters load their guns, the camera is actually on the gun itself! In one scene a gunsman shoots his gun and the camera becomes the bullet…little things like that let you know that yes, you are watching a Sam Raimi film. That, plus it’s got the word ‘Dead’ in the title.

Aside from Raimi’s camera play, we also get memorable heroes and villains and a great story to go with them. The contests attracts all sorts of gunslingers to Redemption, each one of them a unique character. For example, Lance Henriksen plays a gunslinger named Ace, because he is renowned for being so great. He likes to do tricks with his pack of cards, which are all aces. We get another gunslinger who’s a gun for hire, another one is a ruthless ex-con, another one is a young kid, and so forth. Behind the characters lays a story of connected lives. They all live under the oppressive reign of Herod, the films villain played by the one and only Gene Hackman who eats up the screen whenever he appears. There’s this awesome scene in wich Sharon Stone is planning on shooting Herod down, but she is so intimidated by the words he speaks that she doesn’t even dare pull the trigger! Now that’s what I call a villain! On top of this, every other character on this film is played by a recognizable actor before they got famous. Russell Crowe is here playing a Priest who’s looking for redemption. He had an ugly past as a gunslinger and is looking to make his peace with God by becoming a priest. Leo DiCaprio plays ‘The Kid’ who also happens to be the son of Herod, the villain. Even Jigsaw himself is here playing a gunslinger who’s looking to kill ‘Lady’. All in all, this film has a solid cast! So much so, that if this film had been made today, with the exact same cast, it would have cost a hell of a lot more money then what it cost back in those days when a lot of these actors were virtual unknowns.

So let’s see, the cinematography is excellent, the music is top notch, the whole cast really makes the whole thing worthwhile, what’s not to like in this picture? Nothing! It is a great homage to Sergio Leone films and westerns in general. We have the lead without a name; we get the revenge that drives the plot of the film. We even get the helpless towns folk who can’t fight for themselves, so they end up looking for the right gunslinger to save them from the oppressive villain. And we got the showdowns at noon. Basically, everything and anything you could ever want to see in a western. This is a highly underrated Sam Raimi film in desperate need of some love and attention!

Rating: 5 out of 5

The Quick and the DeadBad Girls (Extended Cut)


odenat said...

yeah, i like this film too. Too bad it wasn't successful at the box office.

SFF said...

Well my friend. This one has been in the plastic wrap on the shelf. I really need to see it soon. Thanks for the attention and a great write up. It looked like a film I would enjoy. Sharon Stone looks amazing in it. Loved your choice of images. Great point about films with female leads. I do love them when they get it right [Resident Evil, Aliens]. Best, SFF

Franco Macabro said...

@Odenat: Yeah, it was a pity. Good thing that didnt stop Raimi from making more films.

@The Sci-Fi Fanatic: Time to unwrap it, its a fun film, a great moody wester. Im going to be doing an article soon on female heroes and their failed and successful films.

Thanks for commenting!

Unknown said...

I totally agree with you about this film being one of Raimi's most underrated films. I love that he took the Gonzo energy and camerawork from his EVIL DEAD films and applied them to the western. The only flaw, and this was not his fault, was that the film was not shot in widescreen a la Sergio Leone who Raimi was obviously paying homage to. I read somewhere that Raimi asked the studio to be allowed to shoot in that aspect ratio but they refused.

That being said, the film is filled with TONS of fantastic character actors and I love how Raimi shot every shoot-out differently.

Nice to see some love for this film!

Franco Macabro said...

@J.D.: That "gonzo" camera work as you call it translated well to the western. It's one of the things that makes this one special. Theres this shot where Lance Henriksen shoots an card, and the shot has the card right in front of the camera as it blows up, awesome stuff. That kind of camera work is inspiring to me!

You are right about the widescreen ration thing, but in all other respects, the film oozes homage to Leone. The opening sequence, when we first encounter Lady, she meets up with this guying who is digging for a buried treasure in the dessert, that was the biggest homage to The Good The Bad and The Ugly.

Plus, she's always smoking that thin cigar, just like Clint Eastwood in all of his westerns.

venoms5 said...

I only saw this once and remember thinking it was pretty good for the most part. My uncle likes it quite a bit mainly for Hackman. There's been a nice handful of Euro and American westerns with either female leads, or co-starring roles back in the 60s and 70s. Not sure of the BO success of any of those, though.

Franco Macabro said...

Aliens and Kill Bill are two other good examples of successful action films with female leads in them, but again, these films are an exception. And they were also good films.

More often then not, action films with females in them flop at the Box Office and this is why Hollywood keeps away from making them.

To fix this problem, I think Hollywood should just make better films with females in them instead of crap like Catwoman.

Thanks for commenting Venom.


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