The films of director Sam Raimi epitomize cinematic mythology. From The Evil Dead (horror) to Spider-Man (superhero), he distills genres down to their purest forms—no pretensions of thematic depth, no postmodern irony, no subversive twists; just good, old-fashioned storytelling.
The Quick and the Dead is no exception; it embraces the tropes and clichés of the Western wholeheartedly and sincerely, incorporating iconography from both the American and Italian variants. The setting, for example, is a typical frontier town: a saloon, a brothel, a stable, a clock tower, a single dirt road, and exactly one house, owned by the corrupt “mayor.” The plot revolves around a quick draw competition, which means there’s an almost excessive amount of gun porn; every detail of every firearm—from the oiled chambers of the cylinder to the glint of the well-polished metal to the satisfying “click” of the hammer being cocked—is photographed with borderline fetishistic enthusiasm. The characters participating in the contest are an assortment of familiar archetypes: the repentant outlaw, who has renounced violence and refuses to kill unless it’s in self-defense; the former gang leader turned tyrannical feudal lord, who uses a deadly combination of cunning and bloodshed to intimidate his “subjects” into submission; the young gunslinger, eager to prove his worth; the suave bounty hunter; and the braggart, who talks a big game but is, in fact, a complete fraud. Indeed, the only truly unconventional member of the cast is the protagonist, who is a woman—and a surprisingly complex and nuanced one, at that. Sharon Stone, of course, plays her as an absolute badass, but imbues her with enough vulnerability and insecurity to make her credible, relatable, and compelling.
Despite its obvious feminist leanings, The Quick and the Dead wisely keeps any intended “moral” buried in the subtext. Raimi’s first priority is, as always, to entertain—to thrill the audience with a fun, energetic, action-packed narrative.
The movie’s progressive attitude is merely an unexpected—but certainly not unwelcome!—bonus.