Saturday, August 6, 2011

#365. The Quick and the Dead (1995)

Directed By: Sam Raimi

Starring: Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe

Tag line: "In this town, you're either one or the other"

Trivia:  Sharon Stone was so insistent that Leonardo DiCaprio appear in the film that she paid his salary personally.

Typically, the most exciting scene in any western is the showdown, where two gunfighters face off against each other, but only one walks away. 

Such scenes, when handled properly, can be incredibly tense, and will raise an audience’s pulse rate in a way few other action sequences - western or otherwise - ever could. 

Because they’re so exhilarating, filmmakers usually reserve these mono e mono battles for the movie's finale. With The Quick and the Dead, director Sam Raimi has crafted a western that, from start to finish, is nothing but showdowns, and what’s more, each one manages to outdo the last! 

Every year, the town of Redemption stages a contest to determine who has the fastest draw in the territory. The challenge is open to all comers, and everyone has an equal chance at victory… providing they’re willing to kill their opponent for it. 

John Herod (Gene Hackman), a gun-toting former outlaw who now serves as the mayor of Redemption, is the long-running champion, but some new blood has just rolled into town. Ellen (Sharon Stone), a quick-drawing beauty with a mysterious past and an obvious score to settle, may give Herod a run for his money, as might “The Kid” (Leonardo DiCaprio), Herod’s long-forgotten son who is just as handy with a sidearm as his infamous old man. 

Herod may even face off against Cort (Russell Crowe), his former partner in crime who has renounced violence in favor of peace. With such stiff competition in this year’s contest, there’s no telling who will be crowned the quickest draw… and who will end up dead. 

The Quick and the Dead has a dynamic style to it, one rife with such a vibrant visual energy that director Raimi even manages to command our attention when the guns are still firmly in their holsters. The night before the competition begins, the combatants assemble in a saloon owned and operated by Horace (Pat Hingle), who is also the official referee. One by one, gunslingers from all over the west sign themselves in; Ace Hanlon (Lance Henriksen), Sgt. Clay Cantrell (Keith David), Scars (Mark Boone Junior). Then, as a cold wind blows through the saloon, John Herod makes his grand entrance, and with him is his old partner, Cort, who Herod dragged to Redemption against his will so that he, too, can sign up for the fun. This entire scene in the bar is jam-packed with tension...and nobody’s fired a shot yet! 

The Quick and the Dead is a throwback not to the classic films of Hollywood’s past, but the Spaghetti Westerns that emerged from Italy in the 1960’s and 70’s. Like them, The Quick and the Dead is piled high with pissed-off characters, over-the-top action sequences, and a haunting musical score that blows through town like a tumbleweed. 

All of these elements operate in unison to make The Quick and the Dead a damned entertaining film. 

And when the showdowns do kick into high gear, you best hold on tight.

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