Starring: Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe, Leonardo DiCaprio
Director: Sam Raimi
Mood: If you’ve had a rough day and can’t decide between cheering yourself up with an empowering story about the strongest female Western character ever or venting your rage with tons of action and killing, but you also can’t remember the last time you saw a ‘90s Leo DiCaprio movie. Or if you love guns.
“I’m gonna kill you if I have to ride all the way to Hell to do it.”“The Lady” (Sharon Stone)
I have a tendency to start favourite reviews this way, but I stand by it: HOW GOOD IS THIS F*CKING MOVIE?!
If The Quick and the Dead came up over beers, or even during a meal at a fancy restaurant, I’d shout those exact words because just thinking about it gets me really f*cking excited. It’s one of my favourite Westerns of all time.
I can’t commit to a top 10 favourite albums of all time, or my top 10 books – but I can say with absolute certainty that this would be on the shortlist of my favourite Westerns. And it sits high on that list.
This movie is total perfection, and you can bet I’m about to expound all up in your business.
The Quick and the Dead is straightforward in its story, leaving the thrills to the acting and cinematography. Opening in 1881, gunslinger “The Lady” (Sharon Stone) rides into the town of Redemption, looking for a bit of that but mostly for revenge.
The town is under the iron fist of John Herod (Gene Hackman), and you can immediately tell that he’s bad and everyone is afraid. There are only a handful of people who don’t fear Herod: “The Kid” (Leonardo DiCaprio), a preacher named Cort (Russell Crowe), and some of the gunfighters assembled in town, ready for Herod’s annual quick-draw tournament.
The Lady is afraid of Herod, but determined to challenge and kill him in the tournament. I can’t say why she’s Hell-bent on revenge though, because that juicy nugget isn’t revealed until the final scenes.
Registration for the tournament opens and one by one, gunfighters and cocky ruffians sign up. Herod has Cort dragged in and coerced into entering, despite his outwardly peaceful nature. Again, you have to watch to find out what the deal is between Herod and Cort.
The rest of the movie is a series of exciting duels between a group of characters representing every element of the Old West: a recently escaped convict, a hitman for hire, a repulsive pedophile, a cocky gunfighter whose reputation is bigger than his britches, a seemingly bulletproof Native American, the ridiculously endearing and cocky Kid, pacifist Cort, The Lady, and Herod himself.
There’s SO MUCH to sink your teeth into in this movie. If you like firearms, it’s a f*cking cornucopia of sexy guns and gear. Seriously, go check out the entry in the Internet Movie Firearms Database and try not to get drool on yourself. The cast started training with their guns three months before the movie started shooting, and Stone worked particularly hard to get so comfortable at pulling back the hammer on her gun that it looked effortless.
The duels are shot in a fascinating style that will be familiar to fans of director Sam Raimi’s ‘90s action and horror flicks. You get ultra-fast zooms on the gunfighters’ faces, like a sped-up Sergio Leone. Other times everything is slowed all the way down, emphasizing the split-second reactions of the fighters amid ASMR-like sounds.
- Fun fact #1: Sharon Stone was apparently given a list of directors approved to shoot The Quick and the Dead, and asked to choose a few; the only name she gave was Raimi’s, because she had liked Army of Darkness. She also picked Russell Crowe for the movie, and was SO DETERMINED to have Leonardo DiCaprio as The Kid that she paid his salary out of her own pocket.
And when someone gets shot, THEY GET SHOT. I don’t want to give away the best parts, but in one brilliantly unique sequence, someone realizes he’s hit by seeing the sun shining through a hole in his shadow. Another’s head, seen from behind, suddenly has a hole the size of an apple.
But even though I’m with you in drooling over the guns, holsters, and action, what I love most about The Quick and the Dead is the story – and how the actors conveyed it.
A quick-draw tournament is exciting, but there are so many tangled stories between the gunfighters that most of the duels have extra layers of pressure. Something bigger is at stake. It’s ripe with drama, and all you can do is soak it up and wait on the edge of your seat for the next fight.
Sharon Stone is everything in this movie. EVERYTHING. She’s the perfect female Western character (and the antidote to bullshit like Bandidas). I can’t hold back on all the ways she’s awesome; we’re taking this to a bullet list.
- She’s strong and fast on the draw, but believable – she’s not some unrealistically flawless assassin, she’s a human who has worked really f*cking hard to be as good as she is
- She’s got relatable weaknesses, like getting drunk when she’s anxious and waking up having done something (or maybe not?) with The Kid, or panicking and nearly quitting because she’s full of self-doubt
- Her daytime clothes are appropriate for being a gunfighter and spending hours on horseback – none of the bullshit low-cut tops, bustiers, or other crap they put on most female leads; like, she’s still Sharon Stone, she’s obviously gorgeous, but the story is in no way hinged on her looks and that’s the best
- She doesn’t fall for a man or end up with a man; she has relationships with male characters that are strong and mutually beneficial but have nothing to do with sex or love (although there was definitely affection for The Kid)
- She doesn’t smile (except briefly at The Kid), and the plot doesn’t move toward an ending where she magically feels better and finds her smile
The thing is, I could say almost as many great things about the other performances. But then this would be a novella, and I ain’t got time for that.
Gene Hackman handily evokes that wicked sort of bully who smiles without his eyes, and forces everyone around him to laugh at his jokes, applaud his successes, and act like everything’s cool. His character is relentlessly evil, unwavering in his preference for power over anything (or anyone) else.
Leonardo DiCaprio is achingly sweet as The Kid. You see his influence in other young male Western leads, like Deputy Whitey Winn in Godless. But Leo always gives you layers, and he brings so much more out of The Kid through his eyes and in his delivery. You want to go shoot cans off a fence with him, and drink beers, and also be his mom. David Arquette and Matt Damon were both considered for this role, can you even imagine?!
Russell Crowe, powerhouse that he is, does a lot with minimal lines. This is an actor who can take you on an emotional roller coaster using only his facial expressions. His turn as Cort is mysterious and sad, and he somehow makes you instantly root for him even though you have no idea who he is in relation to The Lady or Herod.
- Fun fact #2: Most of the extras in The Quick and the Dead were hired from unemployment rosters in Tucson, because they wanted people who genuinely looked beaten down by life.
The Quick and the Dead is an insanely good movie on every level. I have probably seen it over 50 times, and I will NEVER get sick of it. In fact, I’m going to put it on again right now, because writing this review got me all wound up about its awesomeness.
More fun facts:
- Sam Raimi has always put his own car, a 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88, into his films; obviously that wouldn’t work in a Western, BUT Bruce Campbell has said that the vehicle’s chassis was taken out and a wagon built over it, which does appear in the movie
- Bruce Campbell (longtime Raimi friend whose movie Army of Darkness made Sharon Stone pick him as a director) appeared as an extra in scenes that got cut
- Raimi intended The Quick and the Dead to be a tribute to Sergio Leone’s ‘Man With No Name’ trilogy, done in Raimi style – which is why The Lady has no name