The Quick and the Dead (1995)

The earliest mention of the phrase “the quick and the dead” comes from the King James translation of the bible, Acts 10:42, which speaks of Jesus as judge “of quick and dead” but also evident in the Apostle’s Creed, an early statement of Christian belief, that “he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”  If only we were so fortunate as to have had such a judge governing the 1995 Sam Raimi Western, and dare I call it such or suggest it keeps company in the same waters as the films of John Ford, Howard Hawks and Sergio Leone, which for all intent purposes is very nearly unwatchable; unless, apparently you worship at the altar of Sam Raimi.

The tagline is your first clue that the film you’re about to watch is not only implausible and as thin as one from a deck of playing cards, but in place of plot and narrative you are riding a horse with a not-so-mysterious woman (she was co-producer after all) who finds the lawless town of Redemption to settle an old score.  We know it is lawless because the previous marshals badge lies in a burnt, long cold fire, and we know there is a score to settle because, well, the town is named Redemption, isn’t it?  What ensues is not so much predictable and uninspired as just not very interesting.  The entire plot of the movie consists of one staged gunfight after another, played out the traditional way, two people stand a certain prescribed distance apart and at the crack of a particularly well maintained clock, they open fire until either one is dead, dying, or flaps their arms in defeat.  This is the kind of story you’d find in the twenty-five cent comic books at the grocery store, remember those? Not the popular ones like Archie and Superman or even Spiderman, the latter which at least turned into successful movie franchises, because those cost more, maybe even a dollar at the time.  What we’re left with are little surprises and every conceivable way to cheat the audience with gimmickry, chicanery, and cinematic buffoonery.

I was surprised by this film.  Really surprised.  I know I had seen it before but somehow I had erased all memory of it – and for good reason.  It is within the opening sequence that things begin to go terribly wrong.  A loan, female cowboy-type, a little too well dressed and made up to really be riding the dusty trails appears, her long blonde hair caught in every frame like a metaphor that gets lost somewhere beyond the frame.  We know she is on a mission and that mission is maybe only obvious because the film begins like a Leone film but all attempt at homage or maybe parody or both is ineffective.  The one thing that is certain is the film is an assemblage of every known image, character, soundtrack, and idea every committed to the Western genre.  Maybe that was Raimi winking at us from a shade covered directors chair, the man who built his career on the Evil Dead films.  If he meant this film to follow in that fashion, to be silly and fun, to not take itself so seriously as to pretend it didn’t know it was preposterous, I might understand; the problem is the film isn’t so much as clever as lame, a one-legged man in an ass kicking contest as they say with some of the worst dialog, one-liners, and plot devices I have seen in recent memory.  Even bad movies try a little.  The only thing this movie tries to do is not collapse beneath the weight of its own contrariness to be fun or interesting, neither of which it is.

I keep wondering where they spent the $32 million dollar budget.  I can imagine it was all cast money, with the likes of Sharon Stone (perhaps still cashing in on her performance from Basic Instinct three years prior) and Russel Crowe (pre L.A. Confidential and as of yet the man he is today), a baby-faced Leonardo DiCaprio( who was brilliant in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape but none of that raw talent shown through here) who is lost beneath a ten gallon hat, Gene Hackman (who could have done anything with his career but somehow chose this; maybe the money was right) and Lance Henriksen (who will always be Jesse Hooker from Near Dark, to me); the latter might be the only interesting character in the bunch, not so much for what he says but the manner in which he says it, his saunter and wild eyes, the long hair we know is a prop but this fact doesn’t keep him from flipping it this way and that, obviously an admirer of his own charm.  One can’t help but recall another failed megaton bomb Western, Wild Wild West with Will Smith and Kevin Kline, among others, but at least with the $170 million dollar budget they had they scraped in over $222 million in box office receipts; I think it was because of the giant spider.  I’m almost certain of it.

I know there are my detractors that will tout the intent and intentions of the filmmakers of The Quick and the Dead, the Raimi aficionados who will do their best to sway me of his bravado and sure auteur-ness; I know some believe in parody and silly romps through tired narratives and welcome with open arms the chance to do a little genre-blending, to take some liberty with the uptight film bourgeoisie who do, I concede, take themselves equally too seriously at times, but against all of that, even my own better judgment dare I, a humble critic in a sea of innumerable critics or hapless types with an opinion in the bloated, swarthy movie blog-o-sphere, say this is the reason there are producers and oversight and people who can step back away from the masterpieces of the world and offer gentle guidance to sway the giddy artiste who has dreamed up the next brilliant light in the sea of movie Dom.

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About rorydean

Rory Dean is a multi-medium artist, writer and new media strategist with a background as a creative consultant and technology liaison in the San Francisco Bay Area. His broad experiences and specialties include print-to-web publicity, promotions and design marketing using traditional and social media networks. As a motion pictures and television professional, his short films, productions and commercials have screened to domestic and international audiences. His connections to a diverse client base include artists, entertainers, corporations, non-profits and everyday people.. Dean is co-owner and founder of Dissave Pictures, a boutique production company focusing on audio, video, photography and multi-media designs. Dean's personal and professional background includes dreaming and avid notebook journaling, creative and copy writing, promotions and marketing, audio/video production, photography, videography, editing, web design and new media. He’s also a fan of collaboration and knows when to turn the reigns over, offer feedback, lead the team and step aside. His portfolio includes print, online, film, video, photography, graphic design and promotions. He’ll show you. He has a book and everything. "When not juggling various online worlds, I do a pretty good mime – but that’s another story."
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2 Responses to The Quick and the Dead (1995)

  1. Rodney says:

    Aw dude? Really?? You didn’t like it? I had such a blast watching this film, even if it is completely ridiculous!! The zany camerawork, the logic-free holes-in-the-bodies that let sunlight shine through, the most cliched Gene Hackman performance ever (did he do a similar thing in Unforgiven, perhaps?) and the best role Lance Henriksen did since Aliens (and possibly Millennium) makes TQATD one of the most entertaining “westerns” ever filmed.
    It might not make much sense, but it does make me laugh. DiCaprio will never make another western (thankfully), and we all know Sharon Stone has lost it, but the chance to see these two doing such a stupid film so very well is awesome!!!
    But I agree with you – it is a terribly convoluted film with no real narrative or critical value whatsoever. Then again, I don’t think that was the point!
    Great review anyway, as usual!

    • rorydean says:

      I must admit it. I know, “it’s supposed to be that way” but I just wasn’t buying it. I guess I’ve never been one for parody, unless it’s razor sharp, and this was pretty dull. I wasn’t expecting so much a traditional, serious Western as much as a sense of inventiveness and fun – maybe I missed those moments. I though the cast alone was enough to criticize – all have excelled in other films and not just delivered good performances but created some of cinema’s most memorable characters. Here they flapped about like fish out of water and that was neither fun or rewarding. I think I’ll stay away from films like this for awhile as it would seem they are simply not my cup of tea (though I’m not sure if they ever have been). Thanks for the thoughts!

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