The Quick and the Dead is an inexplicably underappreciated film. At the time of its release, it was quickly dismissed by critics as missing the mark. The reasons behind this early critical analysis were somewhat rooted in the mid ’90s reluctance to accept this subversive and lightly satirical take on the Western genre.
In the years since, however, it’s undergone a reassessment by critics, from which it emerges far more favourably. Unfortunately, though, the damage was already done, and The Quick and the Dead remains something of a cult gem, lost to time and to the mixed critical reception of its infancy.
For those who haven’t listened to last week’s podcast (seriously, go and listen, please), I’ll offer up a little background: The Quick and the Dead was directed by Sam Raimi off the back of the success of the Evil Dead franchise, and it stars Sharon Stone, an impossibly young Leonardo DiCaprio, Gene Hackman, Lance Henriksen, Pat Hingle, Keith David, Gary Sinise and a young unknown – in his American debut, no less – by the name of Russell Crowe.
With that unbeatable combination of acclaimed director, staggering cast and intriguing Western premise, you’d think that The Quick and the Dead would have quickly passed into high regard, but instead it was dead in the water. (Couldn’t resist the not-so-clever wordplay, sorry.)
The reasons why were fairly uninteresting; the popularity of Westerns was dwindling, with older audiences preferring more traditional, male-centric stories and not appreciating Raimi’s madcap take on the classic format, and with younger audiences not engaging as much due to that Western branding.
However, having watched The Quick and the Dead for the first time just recently, I can safely say it’s one of the most fun Westerns I’ve ever seen.
Personally, I often find the genre to be more than a little dry and often less than interesting. However, Raimi brings his colourful and bizarre approach to the classic Western with this tale of a dueling competition among the most celebrated gunslingers in the West, underpinned by its protagonist’s quest to avenge her father’s murder.
It’s hard to pick out a weakness in the film, because, other than the fact that it doesn’t fit in among its Western contemporaries, it’s truly excellent.
Stone, Hackman, Crowe and DiCaprio all deliver solid performances in their roles as Western stereotypes (the quiet, driven hero, the wickedly charming villain, the reformed bandit-turned-preacher, and the cocksure kid hiding a fatal insecurity), but the thing that impressed me the most was its overall presentation. It’s a genuine Western, with dusty leathers, ragged suits and frontier opulence, all with more than a little grit at its edges. But most of all, it’s Raimi’s willingness to project his own established style onto the genre that makes the film stand out – with bullet holes shining sunlight clear through a corpse, fiery set pieces and dramatically scored duels and shootouts.
In short, The Quick and the Dead makes for an exciting and entertaining watch, whether you’re a fan of Westerns, a fan of Raimi, or simply just looking to kill a couple of hours.
Summary: An impressive and engaging Western that honours the genre without alienating those uninitiated in the ways of the West. Well written, well acted and well presented.
Highlight: The duels – tense moments of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it action that are each, by nature, punctuated by the loss of a character.