Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'The Quick and the Dead' Takes Westerns into Postmodern Era in the Tradition of Sergio Leone, a Dark Poetic Look at the Frontier

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'The Quick and the Dead' Takes Westerns into Postmodern Era in the Tradition of Sergio Leone, a Dark Poetic Look at the Frontier

Article excerpt

'The Quick and the Dead," about a sheriff who keeps order by holding nonstop shootouts in the town square, is the liveliest western I've seen in ages. But many moviegoers will be slow to see it, since the western genre has been more dead than quick at the box office in recent years.

True, an occasional horse opera becomes a hit with audiences. The acclaimed "Unforgiven," the ambitious "Dances With Wolves," and the dreadful "Legends of the Fall" come to mind.

"Wyatt Earp" was a more typical case, though, falling off its horse despite a big-name director and an all-star cast. Once a Hollywood staple, the western genre was killed off in the 1970s and '80s by science fiction, which adapted its conventions to a more trendy, effects-oriented framework. The granddaddy of this change was "Star Wars," which set its story not in the future but "a long, long time ago."

Playing their cards cleverly, the makers of "The Quick and the Dead" have plugged into all sorts of current fashions. Key roles in the story are played by a no-nonsense woman, a fresh-faced youngster, and a weather-beaten old man -- no sexism or ageism here -- supported by a cast of ethnically diverse characters (liberals can smile) treated irreverently enough (conservatives can also smile) for the mixture to seem reasonably uncalculated.

Equally to the point, director Sam Raimi has juiced up the action with the energetic style he developed in the sardonic horror movies that launched his career. To my eye, Raimi shockers like "Darkman" and "The Evil Dead" are more tricky than scary, using an onslaught of gimmicks to mask an absence of thought and feeling. His new western also has plenty of self-conscious devices, from superswift editing to the year's weirdest camera angles. But what makes them more than ostentatious inside jokes is the respect he shows for the conventions he affectionately parodies.

AT once an old-fashioned adventure and a postmodern pastiche, "The Quick and the Dead" walks a slim tightrope with impressive skill and humor. Its main reference point is the work of Sergio Leone, the Italian maestro whose "spaghetti westerns" reinvigorated the genre during its last major phase about 30 years ago. …

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