When you think of the Western genre, your mind immediately goes to names such as Clint Eastwood, Gary Cooper, Sergio Leone, John Wayne, and Jimmy Stewart. But, what about Sam Raimi? The filmmaker, known for The Evil Dead, Tobey Maguire‘s Spider-Man trilogy, and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness actually directed the best 1990s Western that wasn’t Eastwood’s Unforgiven. Sam Raimi’s The Quick and the Dead from 1995 features more future A-listers, fun action scenes, and stylized direction than any other film in its genre from that decade. This was a time that saw loads of uninspired movies simply following in the footsteps of John Wayne or old-school Spaghetti Westerns. These movies might come with a bang-up script or a great cast to fill the screen, but rarely ever did they try to do anything new with the genre. That’s where The Quick and the Dead comes in. It might not have been a huge success at the box office or gone on to become a classic, but boy does it try more than any other Western of its era.
The Quick and the Dead bolsters a super stacked cast, featuring Sharon Stone, Leonardo DiCaprio, Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe, Keith David, Lance Henrickson, and more as a bunch of cowboys and sharpshooters taking part in a long and bloody dueling competition. Stone plays Ellen, also known as “The Lady,” a woman whose father was killed and is seeking to avenge him by entering the dueling contest. Everyone else plays one form of a cowboy archetype or another. Gene Hackman is a lot of fun as the evil and powerful outlaw John Herod, ruler of the town of Redemption. DiCaprio is charming in this early career role, playing “The Kid” (one of the most generic cowboy names of all time), the teenage son of Herod looking to win the competition and gain his father’s respect. Then there’s Cort, played by Russell Crowe. In another version of this movie, Cort might be the lead character, but here he’s just a mild-mannered expert gunman, much like the Man with No Name or Franco Nero’s classic character Django. The Quick and the Dead isn’t great because of the way it reinvents the Western formula though. It’s great because of how it presents itself.
Sam Raimi’s ‘The Quick and the Dead’ Feels Like a 1960s Spaghetti Western
Like all of his genre film efforts, Sam Raimi is the real star of the show here. The Spaghetti Westerns of the 1960s and ’70s saw the genre become a more stylized landscape, with directors like Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci capturing their films through a more inspired and heightened lens than before. These types of hyper-real Westerns fell off a bit in the late ’70s and ’80s, but in 1995, Raimi gave the genre the adrenaline shot it needed. Without knowing much about it, you might go into the film wondering if it’ll be more along the lines of Raimi’s stylistically toned-down ’90s dramas, but those worries are put to bed right when the movie starts. It only takes a minute and a half for the movie to get a little “Sam Raimi Evil Dead,” when the audience is put in the POV of a cowboy who shoots someone off of their horse. The gun in the POV looks a bit cartoony, there’s some wonky dubbing, and a moment later a cowboy hat is thrown into the lens. From the get-go, Raimi’s intentions are clear.
The movie continues to be incredibly stylish. In the hands of any other filmmaker, The Quick and the Dead would have been an entertaining but likely lifeless and generic entry in the greater Western canon. Simon Moore‘s screenplay works, but it isn’t exactly changing the game. It’s a pretty by-the-numbers revenge tale, topped off by a clever potboiler element with the dueling competition. That’s where Raimi elevates this adventure endlessly. There are so many moments throughout the movie where you think to yourself, “Sam Raimi didn’t have to do that! Or that!” but he makes these unique creative choices and uses all of these weird and inventive shots anyway! There’s a part where a glass is thrown across a room and Raimi mounts the camera inside the glass. Another scene has somebody getting shot through the eye (we see the bullet’s POV, of course), and that person has enough time to scream before being killed. There are quick zooms and slow zooms all over this thing. More than almost any film in his filmography, The Quick and the Dead proves what Raimi is capable of doing with someone else’s screenplay, if he’s given the creative freedom to do so.
Gene Hackman, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Russell Crowe Lead Sam Raimi’s Best Cast
The cast adds a ton of life to this movie as well. Sharon Stone is great as our lead, Ellen. She could’ve played the character pretty one note if she wanted to, but Stone adds a sarcastic and biting edge, as well as a current of reserved anger riding beneath the surface. Gene Hackman is just the worst in this movie, and I mean that in the best way possible. He’s gleefully evil, taking so much joy in watching others suffer or die. DiCaprio isn’t in the movie as much as you’d expect, but when he is, he gives it everything he’s got. We’ve all seen Titanic and his performance in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape has been cited plenty, but if you’re looking for another solid early DiCaprio role, The Quick and the Dead should be your next stop.
The rest of the film’s cast is filled with ’90s “that guy” actors and up-and-coming stars. Since the film is centered on a town-wide dueling competition, there’s an understanding that loads of cowboys are going to have to be killed off. The previously mentioned likes of future A-lister Russell Crowe appear, while genre movie favorites Keith David and Lance Henrickson also show up. On top of these guys, Tobin Bell, Pat Hingle, Gary Sinise, Kevin Conway, and more come to play. No one is delivering an Oscar-worthy performance or anything, but this seemingly never-ending cast gets more and more fun to watch as familiar faces continue popping up throughout the film’s runtime. Outside of Raimi’s Spider-Man films, this project just might have his most stacked cast.
Sam Raimi Has an Impressive Filmography
Sam Raimi’s filmography is much more stacked than most people give it credit for. His Evil Dead and Spider-Man trilogies stand out above the rest, but there are plenty of hidden gems to be found. The Quick and the Dead isn’t as good as Raimi’s neo-noir A Simple Plan, nor is it riding the comic book-y highs of Darkman or the catastrophically underrated Crimewave, but it’s an interesting artifact, nonetheless. It manages to find an interesting middle ground between those two types of films. It’s a Western with a screenplay that aims to be as story-based as something like Unforgiven, but with Raimi’s touch, definitely will end up satisfying fans looking to see what his touch might bring to the Wild West. It isn’t A-tier Raimi, but that’s a very tall order in and of itself. B-tier Raimi is a great place for any film to be in, and that’s exactly where The Quick and the Dead lies.
The Quick and the Dead’s desperation to bring some life to the Western genre has to earn it some points. It’s a movie on a mission to give audiences the most fun ride that they can have, steered by a filmmaker who is no stranger to entertaining audiences. It’s not only a massive recommendation for Raimi fans but also for anyone looking to catch a Western that actually does something new with the genre. If you’re looking for a great movie that plays things by the books, sure, go fire up Unforgiven. If you’re looking for the best Western of the ’90s though, fire up The Quick and the Dead, because, well, it rocks.
The Big Picture
- The Quick and the Dead is an often overlooked Western from the ’90s that tries to do something new with the genre.
- The film boasts a stacked cast including Sharon Stone, Leonardo DiCaprio, Gene Hackman, and Russell Crowe.
- Director Sam Raimi’s stylistic choices and inventive shots elevate the movie and show what he’s capable of with creative freedom.