Quick and The Dead Blu-Ray

Saturday, 12 September 2009 08:19

This is a brash and flamboyant Western from “Spider-Man” trilogy director Sam Raimi, featuring a stellar cast. Sharon Stone stars as Ellen aka “The Lady”, an unlikely and mystery-shrouded gunslinger with nothing on her mind but revenge. She arrives in Redemption, a typically dusty Western town where resident despot Herod (Gene Hackman) keeps the locals in check by instilling utter fear into their cowardly hearts.

The annual “quick draw” duelling contest is about to begin, and The Lady signs up along with a rag-tag bunch of stereotypical misfits with catchy names like “Scars”, “The Kid”, “Ace” and “Preacher”. Each has a physical characteristic or personality trait to make them stand out, be it youth, a gimmicky card act or apparent invincibility, and each thinks they have what it takes to win the prestige and large cash prize on offer.

The Quick and The Dead on Blu-RayAs the number of competitors is whittled down, we learn more about the key players’ back stories. “The Kid” (a fresh-faced Leonardo DiCaprio) is Herod’s son, and he is taking part in the contest to try to prove to his cold-hearted father that he has become a man. Cort aka “The Preacher” (Russell Crow) is an outlaw turned man of the cloth whom Herod is trying to destroy by dragging him back to his killing ways. Herod himself uses the tournament as a way to permanently silence potential threats to his dominance, and “The Lady” has a score to settle with him regarding the fate of her father.

The movie’s strongest talking point is undoubtedly the great talent in its cast. Hackman is perfect as the central villain of the piece, full of subtle menace and filling each scene with a dark and dominant presence. DiCaprio hits the right notes of bravado and peacock-like strutting in front of the ladies, whilst underneath he is eminently vulnerable and desperate to get out of his father’s long shadow.

Crow compels as the strong but silent and brooding Preacher, a man who is desperate to leave his blood-stained past behind, but knows he faces certain death if he does. Against this level of competition, Sharon Stone does struggle to stamp her authority on the movie. Having said that, her character does provide a nice contrast to all the macho chest beating going on, and whilst she spends most of the film looking relatively unkempt, she still delivers her trademark sexiness. One cannot quite shake the feeling that she is a kitten in a room full of lions, though!

Beyond the big four, notable actors in smaller roles include Lance Henriksen as the cock-sure “Ace”, “Saw”’s Tobin Bell as an amusingly flee-bitten desperado, and cult favourite Keith David as essentially a black version of a Lee Van Cleef’s pipe-smoking sharpshooter.

The cast are ably supported by a well-paced and competently structured story. The intense and nerve-wracking excitement of the quick-draw contest is regularly interspersed with slower, more character-driven moments where the core plot is gradually unravelled. Raimi never lets the tension relax too far, though – it is a small town, and there is always the feeling that an unscheduled gun fight could kick off at any moment. As with movies featuring martial arts tournaments such as “Enter the Dragon”, part of the fun is trying to guess which competitors will face each other at each stage, wondering who will be victorious, and keenly anticipating the inevitable showdown between the heroic underdog and villain at the end.

Like the two “Young Guns” films before it, “The Quick and the Dead” is all about showmanship and style over substance. Whilst lip service is paid to the desperate plight of the poor, spiritually-crushed townsfolk, this movie is basically all about the entertainment of the shooting contest.

Raimi - coming off the back off “The Evil Dead” trilogy and “Darkman” - had already honed his ability to direct comic book or essentially pantomime characters and stories, and consequently succeeds in making this simple tale outrageously watchable. To keep the film visually stimulating, the director employs practically every cinematographical trick in the book. His directorial style has always been very showy (especially in the early days), but then Westerns are typically more stylised than many other genres to begin with. For example, rather than being satisfied with static close-ups of gunslingers’ scrunched-up eyes as they stand on the cusp of extinction, Raimi uses crashing, tilting zooms into actors’ faces.

Visual and aural slowmo is used copiously but effectively, re-enforcing the impression that the competitors’ senses are momentarily heightened in the milliseconds before the strike of the clock that signals the commencement of each duel. Moonshine flows languidly into glasses, matches dramatically spark into life and gun shells pirouette weightlessly through the air. There are occasions when it feels as though the director would have been better served by utilising a simpler technique, but in general his style keeps the film feeling lively and energetic.

Although this is not a film that takes itself too seriously, it is evident that a lot of thought and attention to detail has gone into it. The costumes, brought to life thanks to the clarity of this Blu-Ray release, are finely crafted even when in many cases they have evidently undergone distressing, emphasising the poverty and grubbiness of its wearer. Similarly, the town of Redemption has a feeling of solidity and a clear sense of place, a fact that should not be underestimated when Westerns can sometimes suffer from superficial “cardboard frontage” issues.

The music and sound design are equally evocative and substantial. Alan Silvestri’s catchy score closely echoes the classic tracks from Clint Eastwood’s “Spaghetti Westerns”. Alongside this we have the metallic clink of spurs and thud of heavy boots approaching the swinging doors of the saloon, the whistle of the wind churning up the dusty street, the creak of leather clothing and the clicking of a six-shooter’s barrel and trigger as its owner prepares it for combat. These aspects combine to successfully draw the audience into the gun fighters’ world.

In summary, this is a superbly entertaining popcorn movie. It does not set out to win Oscars, just deliver a thrilling ride, and it delivers this with aplomb. The Blu-Ray version is definitely superior to the former DVD release, and whilst the picture quality is not quite up to the lofty standards witnessed in transfers of brand new movies, it features good levels of clarity and sharpness. A small but detectable amount of grain exists in external shots, but in a way this adds to the gritty sensation one expects in a Western!

“The Quick and the Dead” (Certificate “15”) has been released on Blu-Ray now, with a RRP of £19.99.

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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