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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

The Quick and the Dead (1995)



Reviews and Comments

Director Sam Raimi's tribute to spaghetti westerns is a scream: The Quick and the Dead is brim full of hideous lechers, jingling spurs, creaky leather, clicking revolvers, and a whole lot of concentrated glaring from underneath wide-brimmed cowboy hats. It's a triumph of style over substance. The premise of the film -- a gunslinging tournament to the death -- is unlikely, and the motives the town mayor (Gene Hackman, in a terrific performance) has for setting the thing up in the first place is hazy, but it proves so successful at supporting the mesh of tensions and moral quandaries and visuals hung upon it that we don't care. The improbability of it all might even be a strength, rather than a weakness: Raimi's slick style is better suited to the surreal than the real.

Besides the movie's striking visual flair, another thing that impressed me was the array of stereotypes and caricatures brought to life in such a way that they seem fresh all over again. We've seen hitmen, cocky kids, and reformed killers in plenty of westerns before, but these hit home anyway, perhaps because the film draws from the stereotypes deliberately, then exaggerates them and adapts them to the overall form. You've heard of gunslingers that notch their guns with every kill: The Quick and the Dead has a guy that adds an ace to his personal deck of cards for each new victim, and another who counts with knife scars in his arm. You get the idea.

This movie isn't for everyone. There are some harsh moments here, and those less intrigued by look and feel than I may find something lacking in the story and unfocused in its moral center. Admittedly, Sharon Stone, playing a revenge-hungry gunfighter, never manages to convey a sense of who her character really is or what drives her. But for me, well, what else can I say but that when the sun glints off the desertscape, the guns are polished, the badguys couldn't be more evil, and it's high noon at the top of every hour, I'm in the moment?