The Quick & the Dead,
directed by Sam Raimi
(TriStar, 1995)

It's a preposterous setup: In the small western town of Redemption, where Herod (Gene Hackman) rules with an iron fist, there is an annual quick-draw contest, where gunmen compete for a vast pot despite knowing that only one person will survive the competition.

Ellen (Sharon Stone) rides into town with a secret traumatic past and defies custom by signing up for the contest. A woman, shooting guns? Glory be! Cort (Russell Crowe), a preacher who has forsworn violence because of his desperado past, is dragged into town in chains and forced to compete; although he swears he won't draw, his instincts compel him to kill everyone he faces.

Ace (Lance Henriksen) believes his trick-shooting skills will win the day, while Sgt. Cantrell (Keith David) is a gun for hire with a very specific target in mind. The Kid (a very young Leonardo DiCaprio) wants to earn his father Herod's respect by winning the contest, even if it means killing his pa.

There are several other brutish competitors, but the focus here is on Ellen, Herod, Cort and the Kid. Everyone else is there primarily as gunfight fodder, so the movie can build to some sort of climax. As the several-day contest unfolds, Ellen has a series of sequential flashbacks so viewers can figure out why she's so tormented, and why she wants to kill Herod. And, because she's Sharon Stone, Ellen is a little careless with her personal modesty.

This movie didn't do very well when it hit the screens in 1995, although it has since developed something of a cult following. I'm not sure why. The Kid's story is the only one here I found compelling. (A subplot about a very young woman who takes her first step toward becoming a prostitute is supposed to get viewers riled up but, although the man involved is certainly vile, the girl did choose to live and work in a brothel, and she did accept money for sex, so I'm not sure Ellen had good cause to be so mad about it.)

SPOILER AHEAD: The movie focuses on a lot of straightforward gun battles, but the climax involves Ellen cheating, which sours things a bit. Her explosive distraction -- a tactic to take Herod's eyes off the target -- could very easily have killed a whole lot of innocent townsfolk, in addition to destroying their homes and businesses, so I'm not convinced it was a very good plan.

review by
Tom Knapp

16 July 2016

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