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December 2009

The Quick And The Dead

cast: Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe, Lance Henriksen, and Tobin Bell

director: Sam Raimi

103 minutes (15) 1994
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Sony blu-ray Region B retail

RATING: 7/10
review by Donald Morefield

The Quick And The Dead

A lone rider arrives in the western town of Redemption, seeking vengeance for her murdered father - a marshal who challenged the criminals that killed him. Back in the mid-1990s, following her attainment of stardom in Basic Instinct, in between action roles in Total Recall (opposite Schwarzenegger), and The Specialist (with Stallone), a 'wild west' picture with Sharon Stone was quite an enticing prospect. Here, she plays 'the Lady', later identified as Ellen, a novice gunfighter joining a duelling contest organised by town despot Herod (Gene Hackman, performing a cheekily extravagant variation of his Oscar-winning 'Little Bill' Daggett supporting character in Eastwood's Unforgiven).

For a slick western thriller that also counts Clint Eastwood's seminal High Plains Drifter (1973) among its varied influences, perhaps this particularly astute casting of Hackman as the chief villain, might be viewed as one borrowing too many from Eastwoods' oeuvre... But director Sam Raimi, and screenwriter Simon Moore, have crafted such an obviously affectionate homage to both stylised 'spaghetti' westerns, and traditional Hollywood horse operas, and then blessed the film with simmering undercurrents of both femininity and feminism (Stone's Ellen is a notable amalgam heroine - seemingly inspired by Calamity Jane, Annie Oakley, and Jane Fonda's Cat Ballou), that even such blatantly developed influences, aesthetic and narrative, do not, in any significant way, detract from this film's board appeal to mainstream cinema tastes.

Other principal castings for The Quick And The Dead - of Russell Crowe, whose stardom was clearly ascendant back then; and the 20-year-old Leonardo DiCaprio, just ahead of his leading role in Baz Luhrmann's modernist Shakespeare, Romeo + Juliet (1996), plus extremely talented supporting actors such as Keith David, Lance Henriksen, Tobin Bell, with superb veteran, Pat Hingle - provided further evidence of the filmmakers' savvy in assembling team players capable of roundly expressing peculiar individualities for their often ironically-mannered iconic western roles. In fact, every key role in the unfolding drama of sudden death is perfectly balanced for easy recognition by genre fans of several wild-west archetypes; from the undertaker Doc Wallace (Roberts Blossom), and victimised saloon-girl Katie (Olivia Burnette), to grungy outlaw, 'Scars' (Mark Boone Jr), and local sleaze, Dred (Kevin Conway), a rapist and paedophile.

It's not immediately clear, in the timetable of clock-strike scheduled gunfights, who is most likely to end up shooting the hateful villains, or the boastful gunslingers (a Sioux Indian, named Spotted Horse, claims invulnerability to bullets; Henriksen's charismatic trick-shot artist, 'Ace' Hanlon, is fatally exposed as an unskilled fraud by Herod's expertise), but there are few genuine surprises here. It's to be expected that Herod will manipulate proceedings to such an extent that he ends up shooting his immodest son 'the Kid' (a rather unsympathetic DiCaprio), and that the villain is wily enough to pit reluctant hero Cort (Crowe, underplaying almost to the point of invisibility), against vulnerably-anxious heroine Ellen, necessitating their rule-breaking ruse to counteract and prevent a wicked twist of fate that Herod plans for them.

Raimi employs numerous camera tricks or displays of prosthetics to enhance, with consummate wit and savage humour, the wounding and killing scenes. This cannot be praised as a modern classic of the western genre, but neither is it a complete flop (as its US box-office receipts had suggested). It's unlikely to be found on any critic's top 10 listing of cult movies, either. The Quick And The Dead is merely a competent production, a lively mix of clichés and talent, which is quite satisfactory by anyone's standards.



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