Two Cents Enters 2021 Side-by-Side with THE QUICK AND THE DEAD

Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.

The Pick:

The Western is a genre that is routinely being pronounced dead, yet it nevertheless is always rising out of the grave to give us another dose of sprawling vistas, dusty frontiers, and quick-draw gunfights.

Westerns were especially dead throughout the ’80s, thanks to the historic tanking of Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate, but the success of films like Dances with Wolves and Unforgiven, not to mention the phenomenon of the Lonesome Dove miniseries on TV, led to a brief resurgence of the Hollywood Western.

Suddenly cowboys were cool again, albeit tempered with then-modern attempts to address the murky morality underpinning your standard white hats vs. black hats conflicts, not to mention the historic plight of Native Americans.

By the time The Quick and the Dead hit theaters, that Western boom was already pretty much going bust, which might be why the film flopped on release and was greeted with mostly a shrug.

Even as a belated part of a trend, The Quick and the Dead doesn’t quite fit in. Instead of moral murk and Oscar-winning prestige, Quick delights in pure-pulp storytelling. Every character is a Character, every emotion is outsized to operatic proportions, and cartoon physics rule the day with bodies flying with Loony Tunes abandon.

Then again, what can one really expect from Sam Raimi turned loose on the Wild West?

Raimi was hired by producer/star Sharon Stone off the strength of his work on Army of Darkness. He brings all his tricks to bear, with canted angles, manic energy, and of course epic Raimi-cam shots as bullets streak towards skulls to blow impossible wounds through unsuspecting fools.

Stone plays The Lady, a taciturn gunslinger who rides into the town of Redemption with nothing but a pistol, a bad attitude, and a grudge against outlaw-turned-overlord John Herod (Gene Hackman). The Lady figures out quickly that her best bet at settling her unknown score against Herod is to enter his quickdraw tournament, battling her way to the big bad one gunfight at a time.

That’s right, someone asked what if you made an entire movie just out of the part at the end of a Western where two people stare each down and then pull.

Standing between the Lady and destiny is a murderer’s row of future stars and character actors. There’s the baby-faced Kid (a pre-Titanic Leonardo DiCaprio), and the angel-faced Cort (a pre-L.A. Confidential Russell Crowe), along with a bevy of bad hombres including Lance Henriksen, Keith David, Mark Boone Junior and Tobin Bell.

The Quick and the Dead ended up being something of a dead end for all involved. The same year this flopped, Stone delivered maybe her career best performance in Casino and was rewarded with an Oscar nomination. DiCaprio and Crowe would both vault to mega-stardom only a couple years later, while Raimi would pivot to the Hitchcockian thriller A Simple Plan and earn a new degree of critical appreciation before ushering in the next phase of Hollywood blockbusters with his triumphant Spider-Man.

But Quick hasn’t been forgotten, not by Raimi fans and not by Western lovers. It’s too bizarre and singular an item to ever go fully ignored. So saddle up beside us and get comfy. 2021 is opening with one wild ride.

Next Week’s Pick

Wonder Woman 1984 has found itself at the center of a great deal of attention and controversy, not only because of the mixed reactions to the film itself, but its release method — debuting streaming on HBO Max, making it one of the key titles discussed amid Warner Brothers’ recent dollow-up decision to move their entire theatrical release slate online in the wake of the industry’s sudden downturn.

But where girl-power-infused DC movies are concerned, your Two Cents editors can agree on their mutual appreciation for unfairly overlooked Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), the hilariously irreverent Harley Quinn-focused tale which yoinks the one good aspect of the asinine Suicide Squad and spins it off into its own deserving entity. You can find it streaming on (where else?) HBO Max.

Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at) anytime before midnight on Thursday!

THE QUICK (Our Guests):

Austin Wilden:

Nobody ever mentioned this was a Death Tournament Movie!

The Quick and the Dead being a Western directed by Sam Freakin’ Raimi was enough to put it on my “To Watch” list. Knowing it’s part of one of my favorite subgenres of action movie (and one normally confined to martial arts movies at that), I would’ve rushed to see it faster than The Lady’s firing hand. Structuring a Western around a quick-draw competition basically works as an excuse to have a whole movie where a good portion of the runtime is dedicated to what other Westerns would only feature in a single scene, iconic shootouts.

The only thing keeping those scenes in this movie from having that iconic status is the fact this is one of the less seen entries in Raimi’s filmography. His direction and Dante Spinotti’s cinematography make each one unique and the pace of the story keeps things from getting monotonous. The murderer’s (ha!) row of character actors, including Mark Boone Junior, Lance Henriksen, and Keith David, making up the other contestants give the audience something of interest to watch between scenes concerning the plots of the central characters.

Those central characters also have strong yet easy to understand motives that keep the dynamics between them engaging without being lost under everything else. Sharon Stone’s Ellen, mostly called “The Lady” throughout the movie, deserves a place among the great cinematic action heroines. Russell Crowe’s Cort has his killer’s instinct in conflict with his quest for redemption. (Which also happens to be the name of the town the whole tournament’s taking placing in, because for all the great features of this movie subtlety isn’t one of them.) Meanwhile, both have personal ties to Gene Hackman’s despicable despot, named Herod (see what I meant about subtlety), an all-time great villain-turn to top even Hackman’s well-remembered role as Lex Luthor.

If all that wasn’t enough to speak to how much ass The Quick and the Dead thoroughly kicks, there’s also a scene of Stone’s character shooting a pedophile’s dick off! (@WC_WIT)

Brendan Agnew (The Norman Nerd):

Is The Quick and the Dead the “most” western?

That is rhetorical, because yes — it is. Do you like Sergio Leone? Sam Raimi has crash zooms, close-ups, and dramatic squinting aplenty. Do you like Ennio Morricone? Alan Silvestri does too, and his score is gonna make sure you know it. Do you like mysterious characters with enticing secret backstories? Literally every principal character has you covered. Do you like “high noon” shootouts on main street? GOOD NEWS, THAT’S THE ENTIRE MOVIE.

More isn’t always better, but at a brisk 105 minutes, stuffed with legendary character actors pitching their work at the exact same “back of the rafters” that Raimi is directing his visuals at, and a can’t-miss tournament structure, The Quick and the Dead stands as a delightfully entertaining companion to slick ’90s westerns like Tombstone and Young Guns. Gene Hackman brings some big Lex Luthor energy to what could have been just a retread of his performance in Unforgiven, Sharon Stone does an able riff on the type of wandering badass lady that Raimi and Lucy Lawless would later perfect with Xena, and both Russell Crowe and a babyfaced Leonardo DiCaprio emerge as bone fide movie stars right out the gate.

The Quick and the Dead is unashamed popcorn, but it’s effective, stylish, fun, a memorable and (literally) explosive finale, and a veritable buffet of unforgettable performances. (@BLCAgnew)

THE DEAD (The Cinapse Team):

Brendan Foley:

I adore virtually every frame of this lunatic movie and think just about every element of it is perfectly chosen and deployed. Except for Sharon Stone. Now, to be clear, I have no beef with Sharon Stone as an actress and think as a producer she is above reproach with this movie. She pushed for Raimi, she insisted on casting Crowe and DiCaprio, etc. Even if the movie was ignored on release, time has proven her instincts and choices to have been perfectly on point. But the Furiosa-ian ‘snarling stone-faced gunslinger’ role proves to be a bad fit for her, and at times she seems to be the only performer not keyed in properly to the gonzo-but-sincere tone that Raimi strikes. I almost wish she had cast some up-and-coming actress as The Lady and instead taken the Hackman role for herself. God knows she could have really made a five-course meal chewing up the scenery as a great cackling villain. Hell, it worked for Catwoman (the only thing that did).

But with that said, Quick and the Dead is still just so much unbridled fun. Raimi is unleashed to a degree that is truly unprecedented. You can feel him pushing for every shot to contain some bit of manic energy, and the ensemble is more than willing and able to match him. Every actor comes in swinging hard to be the villain who stands out amongst all the other villains, while both Leo and Crowe are serving up fastballs of movie star charisma every chance they get. It’s a wonder the whole thing doesn’t implode in on itself (and in the scenes where things are forced to slow down to focus on the rote story, you can feel that starting to happen) but the feeling of sheer, blissful reckless abandon carries the day. (@TheTrueBrendanF)

Austin Vashaw:

While The Lady is the protagonist, she’s also the mysterious figure of vengeance — it’s her friends that give the film its heart. The boyish DiCaprio is both rascally yet sympathetic as the hotshot kid who really just wants approval from the father who denies him.

But my favorite character is definitely Cort, the preacher who fights only because he’s forced into the contest against his will. At one point, he says to The Lady in reference to his crimes, “I’m already damned, I know that. Don’t go down that road. You don’t have to become like me”. But when she moves to kill, he tells her, “There’s always forgiveness if you ask for it”. A subtle flash of recognition lights his countenance as he realizes it’s the truth that can also set him free. It’s a great moment of remarkable depth in a vengeful story that is, at least on the surface, about people trying to shoot each other. (@VforVashaw)

Excerpted from Austin’s review of the 4K Blu-ray.

Next week’s pick:

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