The Quick and the Dead (1995) (yet another title extracted from the bible) is a star-studded, off-beat western that mainly pits Lady (Sharon Stone) against Herod (Gene Hackman). This particular western really cuts to the chase. It concerns a series of gunshooting contests that take place in the middle of town just as a rusty old clock strikes a chime. That is the beginning rule. But later, other rules are added in, such as fights to the death, as things turn more personal. A repeated flashback informs us that Lady is on a mission and that Herod’s life is her target. Herod is one of those bad guys, who, like some jocular Stephen King characters, are as jokey as they are evil. To be sure, Herod, who collects taxes when he is not gunning men down, is very amusing. But there is no one around prepared to shed a tear should anything happen to him. This includes the Kid (Leonardo DiCaprio), who may or may not be Herod’s son.
One cannot stress enough that The Quick and the Dead is not an ordinary western. All the same, it works. Some of the cinematography is highly creative, along with sound close-ups and extreme, visual framing. Sam Raimi, director, has a cinematic eye. It might seem boring just on the surface to watch a movie in which there is nothing but one showdown after another. But this is not the case. All the characters are interesting, even if several do not spend all that much time on screen. They are not necessarily real, to be blunt, but the film, as almost always obtains in good science fiction, establishes its own parameters.
How two characters named for ancients who lived near the time of Christ enter into this picture is not readily apparent. Herod was a notorious ruler who, if he had a single good quality, it somehow escaped the historical record. Horace, however, played by Pat Hingle, who is the ringmaster of the gunfighting festivities was, during the time of Augustus, a renowned poet. Well, it takes all kinds, and this is as true in the Old West as in Rome and Judea. Cort (Russell Crowe) is probably the fastest gun, but has renounced gunslinging in order to become, instead, a man of the cloth. Herod, warm-hearted guy that he is, will not let Cort forget the fact that when the pressure is on, he will always revert to his old self, a killer.
If nothing else, movie fans will certainly enjoy watching Sharon Stone play an intense, driven westerner with a bit more range than some of her other films allow. Tough female leads are definitely popular, and this one comes earlier than many subsequent to ’95. Non-western-fans might well wonder just how much liberty is taken in gunfighting films during which gunmen and gunwomen shoot with mind-boggling accuracy. Still, none of them would want to play William Tell and wear an apple to find out. And why shouldn’t movies be superior to reality? Many forms of realism in the arts have come and gone, and their goal, to change the world for the better (holding a mirror up to reveal its faults), despite so much effort, has come pretty much to naught.