In the years between his Evil Dead and Spider-Man trilogies, cult deity Sam Raimi went through a period of being fittingly a gun for hire on a string of films that muted his impish visual style in favour of honing his craft. While it would be montrously unfair to describe this era as Raimi’s wilderness period – it gave us the icy genius of A Simple Plan for God’s sake – flawed films films like For The Love Of The Game and The Gift may have had him working with talent like Kevin Costner and Cate Blanchett but we still yearned for the batshit zaniness of an Evil Dead or a Darkman. Thank fuck then, for The Quick And The Dead, an unfeasibly weird western that smashes an established cast into a group of newbies on the cusp of superstardom and then throws in a ton of quirky character actors and Raimi’s dizzying camera work to boot.
A mysterious gunslinger trots into the destitute town of Redemption to participate in it’s yearly quickdraw contest, but something noticable sets this particular bullet flinger aside from the rest of the motley maniacs who have enrolled. She’s a woman and she’s here to settle a long standing grudge with ex-outlaw and current hugely corrupt mayor, John Herod, a man who has his boot firmly on the neck of the simple peasants and is squeezing them for 50 cents on the dollar. However, simply just stepping up and plugging the guy proves to be an impossibility due to the gaggle of killers and sharp shooters have descended on Redemption in order to claim the cash prize but Herod also has an agenda. Using the contest to weed out any threats, the tyrannical mayor has also arranged for an old protege who’s renounced his outlaw ways and found Jesus to participate against his will. As “The Lady” negotiates the flying bullets and eccentric lunatics while slowly working her way up to her main target, but as the put upon people of Redemption manage to eventually get under her toughened skin, her quest becomes much deeper than outdrawing an experienced killer, putting a bullet into his skull and simply walking off.
A lifelong fan of Raimi’s work the second the gozo majesty of Evil Dead 2 collided with my rapidly dilating eyeballs, seeing him tackle a genre that doesn’t invoke chainsaws and web-shooters turns out to be quite the treat. Riffing on the stylized, gunslinging chicanery that made Sergio Leone’s Man With No Name trilogy so unfeasibly, fucking cool, the director’s unhinged visuals are suprisingly given free reign to enhance the nicely quirky script. Each gunfight is shot completely differently preventing the action from getting to samey – one draw-down contains more dolly zooms in a single scene than an entire Hitchcock marathon – and Raimi unleashes his full armoury of visual tics and quirks to firmly plant his distinct stamp on a genre not exactly known for deranged POV shots and frenzied crash zooms.
Lining up to have Raimi’s camera launched directly at their faces like a vastly expensive mosquito, the vast impressive cast infuse the bizarre ensemble with enough weirdness to keep up with the hyper-active cinematography.
Firstly, and oddly for a film obviously meant to be primarily a vehicle for Sharon Stone, she’s ironically the weakest thing in it with her rip-roaring road to revenge feeling a little vanilla compared to the other, vastly more interesting parade of pistol twirling weirdos. It’s a shame, because Stone does well with the kind of enigmatic roles usually doled out to men and despite an out-of-place flash of her boobs in order to capitalise on her Basic Instinct notoriety, it’s honestly nice to see a tough female lead in this kind of movie.
As the very villainous villian of the piece, Gene Hackman is fucking immense as the unfeasibly cruel Herod and somehow makes him even more of a towering c-word than his baddie turn in Unforgiven. His systematic and sadistic deconstruction at the business end of a six shooter to any poor bastard who stands at the opposite end of main street to him is gloriously booable and is someways a forgotten high point in a career full of intense bastards. Impressing even further are noticeably younger (and thinner) versions of Russell Crowe as reformed outlaw, Cort and Leonardo DiCaprio as talented upstart The Kid, who at this point were both a pube-hair away from mega-stardom thanks to Titanic and Gladiator. In fact it’s legitimately strange to see Russell Crowe absorbing similar amounts of Sam Raimi inflicted punishment the director usually unleashes on a hapless Bruce Campbell as the aussie actor weathers indignity after indignity thanks to the mischievous director. Filling out the rest of the cast is a virtual army of character actors that include the likes of Keith David, Lance Henricksen, Tobin Bell, Roberts Blossom, Pat Hingle and Mark Boone Jr. and all of whom go all out to make this supporting cast of gun firing freaks as varied as the cast of a one on one beat-em-up.
Ironically, the very thing that made The Quick And The Dead stand out from every other western ever made is most likely the same thing that kept it from being universally embraced back upon release and make no mistake, the movie is wilfully odd by choice. No character is simply and bloodlessly cut down when they can have their whole cranium turned into a gruesome donut thanks to a well placed bullet or have their entire body sent flipping through the air after catching a round directly into a disbelieving eyeball which may have put off inflexible western purists who may have decried it as being too cartoonish.
Well… fuck those guys, because Raimi’s rooting, tooting, six-shooting epic is definitely worth re-discovering for someone looking for something a little different in the genre or in Raimi’s cannon in particular – rumour has it that his infamous car that’s cameoed in all his films is even here somewhere under a tarp…
Putting the wild firmly into the wild west, The Quick And The Dead may have a calibre that may not suit some, but rest assured, it shoots from the hip, has unerring aim and hits the target.
DRAW… your own conclusions, pilgrim.