All right, all right, I'm sorry I haven't been seeing the movies I should. I haven't seen A Simple Plan yet, I admit it. Everyone's been nagging me, bothering me about it, telling me: "James, it's such a great film." But I haven't seen it.
Anyway, that apology aside, I'm very glad I took time to watch Sam Raimi's 1995 film The Quick and the Dead.
About three weeks ago, I was talking with a friend of mine after seeing the excellent Miramax/Universal effort Shakespeare in Love. Now I don't remember how we got on the topic, it was something about very clichéd films, the formula that's done over and over. Oh, yeah, it had to do with a new version of Scrooge he had seen. We agreed on one thing about clichéd films: There should be a law that, if you're going to make a terribly clichéd film, then you at least have to do something original in it.
The Quick and the Dead exemplifies this.
The Quick and the Dead is, quite naturally, the age-old Western formula story about a gunfighter going into a lonesome town in the West, getting rid of some evil villian, and appointing a new person to be the Sheriff. Now, here's the difference: the gunfighter in this film is Sharon Stone.
Yes, you heard me right, feminism has reached a high in Hollywood to the point that a woman has taken up the traditionally male role of a gunsligner in the Old West. And damn, did I love her doing it!
Also, as far as new innovations go, Sam Raimi has perhaps the finest filmed Western ever done on his hands. In love with the zoom as ever, Raimi is up to par with Schumacher in the stylistic aspects of filmmaking, where Raimi does what Schumacher (sorry Joel, but it's true) always sucked at: the substance aspects of it.
Instead of characters as fake as the two story front to the one story town, Raimi delivers us fully developed characters... with the exception of Gene Hackman, who is, and always will be as far as this film is concerned, simply the bad guy. We will never see him as human.
Back to the stylistic aspects of the film, Raimi's repeated use of the zoom and razor-sharp editing allows us to view each gunpoint with an infectious tension. Raimi will often intercut shots of each gunfighter, the worried onlookers, the clock counting away the time, and Gene Hackman's face of pure steely evil as we watch the fight.
Also, once the shots are fired, we use either ultra-slow or ultra-fast pans and zooms to view the progress of the shots through the air, and then the effects are given to us with some of the finest fake blood outside of horror films (should we be surprised that he is the autueur behind the Evil Dead and Darkman series?).
Also, Sharon Stone's character gives us some chance at morals with the film, avenging a little girl's rape by doing a Bobbit with a gun, and dealing with her own shocking inner deamons throughout the film. And, if that weren't enough, we have L.A. Confidential's Russell Crowe giving his usual excellent as a preacher who is forced to return to gunslinging.
Back to the matter of A Simple Plan, I will make a point to see it now that I have tasted my first sample of the incredibly stylistic Raimi. As far as something new in a cliché genre: thank god. If the Premium channels didn't get real good during January and February, I would hate having to deal with most of the films of the months, which are either Quick or Dead.