The Quick and the Dead

in Action, Not-A-Dick Flicks, Western

Not-A-Dick Flick Pick

  • Stars: Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman
  • Director: Sam Raimi
  • Writer: Simon Moore

A tiny, terrified western town called Redemption.  A stranger storms in unannounced.  Dark.  Fierce.  Swilling whiskey like water.  Packing an arsenal of firepower and the balls to challenge ruthless killers.  Only this deadly stranger is a girl.

This is our kind of movie.

Sharon Stone is the sixgun-toting stranger, and a fiercer Sharon Stone you’ve never seen.  She – her name is almost never uttered aloud – she rides into town to join dozens of other gunslingers in the annual shootout competition.  But there’s something darker driving our (anti?)hero to Redemption, something far more sinister than the $123,000 prize awaiting the last man – or woman – standing.  Murky flashbacks and a ghostly sighting promise a tale of violence and vengeance.

Whatever her true goal, our single-minded lady is dragged off course by a string of distractions.  A cocky young gunslinger (Leonardo DiCaprio) latches onto her like a lovesick puppy, despite her obvious disdain and a maybe ten-year age gap.  The barkeep’s worshipful daughter follows her around like, well, also like a lovesick puppy.  Redemption’s despotic ruler (Gene Hackman) and the shackled quickdraw preacher he’s forcing to compete (Russell Crowe in a rare supporting capacity) both find themselves inexplicably fascinated by her.  And somewhere in a dingy back room, a hired gun has been recruited to do… something unspecified but undoubtedly wicked.

What makes this movie spectacular is the complexity of Stone’s character.  To be blatantly un-PC, they didn’t simply stick breasts on a testosterone-driven gunslinger and yell “Action!”  She is a woman, and Simon Moore’s script factors that in.  She can drink, swear, fight, swagger, shoot, and have sex “like a man;” her voice is gravelly, her eyes steely, her visage frighteningly impassive.  But when she’s secreted away, we see doubt, revulsion, vulnerability, even tears.

She’s allowed to feel terrified by the terrifying events barreling toward her.  It doesn’t make her weak, and it doesn’t make her girly.  It makes her human.  Perhaps this was easier to pull off well with a woman rather than a man; so many male action heroes are stoic to the point of being robotic.  But those types of heroes reflect flat, characterless writing, whatever their gender.  Stone’s mysterious stranger thinks, feels, acts, and reacts, and that is what pulls us into her shoes.

Sam Raimi directed, so expect a showering of the over-the-top flash of the Evil Dead and Xena/Hercules series (sunlight shining through bullet holes, for instance), but without the campy tone.  It’s a spoof and an homage at the same time, poking fun at spaghetti westerns the way only adoring fans can.  If you’re curious, you can find more details at this fun behind-the-scenes website, created by the extra (Bob Bish) who played the ex-Confederate outlaw.

It goes without saying that this is a Not-A-Dick Flick.  Whoops, said it anyway.  Not-A-Dick Flick.  Strong Female Lead.  Moore even tosses in a Token Male for good measure.  Stone is at her absolute finest; she skyrocketed to the top of my list about halfway through the movie.  Crowe is just fun to watch; trivia buffs may appreciate that this is not the only time he spends the bulk of a film in handcuffs.  And Hackman brings out just the right dimensionality in what would otherwise have been the standard Black Hat.

“The Quick and the Dead” spins an age-old fable from some familiar threads and some brand new ones.  The result is a captivating character, a classic western, a bombastic action movie, and a fantastic film all around.

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