The Western With a Participation Trophy: ‘THE QUICK AND THE DEAD’

When I volunteered to write an article about the 1995 western movie The Quick and the Dead, I fully intended to write something entirely positive. After all, I’ve watched this movie several times and liked the experience each time. Then I sat down and thought about it objectively.

That’s where the trouble started. When subjected to concentrated thought I was forced to come to the conclusion that The Quick and the Dead isn’t a good movie. It isn’t a bad movie either. What this movie is, is the Wednesday of the week of Westerns, where a made-for-Netflix cowboy movie is Monday and the Dollars trilogy makes up the weekend.

This would be the point where I would recount the events of The Quick and the Dead but there would be no point, and that’s the major problem. Follow along with me:

  1. Town under the thumb of a cruel, criminal despot.
  2. Good people are victimized, bad people thrive.
  3. Mysterious stranger comes to town.
  4. Cast of quirky, more fleshed out side characters.
  5. Cynical good guy with a dark past, unwilling to act.
  6. Money-centric plot, bringing all characters into conflict.
  7. The past, revealed!But it’s actually personal for the mysterious stranger: despot “dun did kilt their paw.”
  8. Shootouts!
  9. Mysterious stranger gets revenge, cynical good guy finds hope, and the town is saved.
  10. Mysterious stranger rides off into the sunset.

If you thought this sounded like the Find-and-Replace template for a Western movie/book, then you’d be right. And this is exactly what The Quick and the Dead follows to a T (including the cliché “riding off into the sunset”.)

Formulas are fine if effort is put into doing them in an interesting way, but this movie didn’t. The biggest deviation to the formula is that the mysterious stranger is a gunslinging woman, but strangers are mysterious regardless of how their bits are configured.

What’s most egregious about this box-ticking is that there was no need for it. Look up this movie’s IMDb and you’ll find that the director is Sam Raimi. Yes, Sam The Evil Dead trilogy, Darkman, and Drag Me to Hell Raimi. Didn’t realize that? That’s okay, there’s no reason you would have. Save for the filming style of the showdowns, there’s nothing that really marks this as a Raimi movie: none of the style, none of the humor, not the plot, and not the characters.

Why would such an iconic director not do anything that they were known for? A viewer can point to it and say “Oh yeah, that’s, like, Western stuff.”

My theory for this being such a safe movie? Obligation. This movie reeks of something Raimi was forced to do. The most likely culprit is that it was contractual; he could have directed this movie to open up the funding and support for a project he wanted to do. Reason aside, this movie plays like his heart wasn’t really there.

That isn’t to say that it’s not competently done. There’s no serious folly that this movie performs. It may walk down a well-trodden path, but at least it’s able to put one foot in front of the other without falling over. Raimi is an experienced filmmaker and he knows his way around a production.

The lion’s share of saving The Quick and the Dead from fatal mediocrity is done by the performances. They’re why I’ve watched this more than once (apart from being a general fan of the genre.)

By 1995, Gene Hackman was an old hand at Westerns, and slips into his antagonist character like a pair of well-worn, manure-caked cowboy boots. Sharon Stone as the lead makes the transition from femme fatale to cheroot-smoking, hard-drinking, six gun-toting mysterious stranger fairly well. Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio do their characters justice as well. No one really half-asses it in any aspect, but everyone from the Best Boy to the writers to Alan Silvestri (Of Back to the Future and Marvel’s Avengers fame) with his score only show up to do a job.

Does The Quick and the Dead push the boat out far enough so it can’t see the shore? No. Does it trip over its own drooping stupid? No. Does that mean it doesn’t deserve to exist? Of course not. Kick back in your favorite chair and give it a watch; maybe on a lone, lazy Sunday when you’re one-third of the way down a pint of ice cream because your life is spiraling out of control. At least there’s something that’s comfortable and reliable.

★★★

Thanks for joining us for WESTERN WEEK! Take a look at yesterday’s entry BATTLE GOTH AND THE TROJAN WHORES: ‘DJANGO’ AND ‘THE CROW’

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