Here we have a Western under the directorial supervision of Sam Raimi with stars such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Gene Hackman and Lance Henrikson. How could this not be a brilliant movie? Oh wait, it’s a Sharon Stone vehicle. Aha! There’s your problem. Now, the reason I’m reviewing this is that I was looking through the history of films I’ve written about and I didn’t have a title beginning with “Q”. Being the anally retentive guy that I am, this would not do – so I pulled this relic from 1995 out as it has a whole lot of interesting elements that don’t quite add up to a decent movie.
It’s a revenge film that focuses on an annual gunfight tournament staged by local tyrant Herod* (Hackman) in his own perverted effort to keep himself on top and eliminate any competition that might come his way. This year a stranger wanders into town. Her name is Ellen (Stone) and she wants to join in the fun but she won’t reveal her reasons. There’s a whole host of comic book characters to join in the fight plus Cort (Crowe) who’s some sort of anti-violence preacher who Herod forces to join in the hi-jinks.
Now, the thing I like about Westerns as much as the violence and tales of hardship on a hard land are the sweeping shots that make things like the Anamorphic format worthwhile. However, this is a Sam Raimi film – a Sam Raimi film with a script by a guy who mostly wrote for TV previously. And though you might think Raimi would be a great choice for the genre (his highly stylised vision may well have drawn more than a thing or two from Sergio Leone), the film is rather claustrophobic. Perhaps a directorial choice to put us in the thick of the tournament – perhaps a budget restriction, maybe even oversight on the part of writer Simon Moore’s made-for-TV background. Whatever it was, the difference between Leone’s gunfights which incorporated all manner of tricks and close-ups to put us right there in the action were also nicely balanced with the space and pacing of the old west.
Nothing against Raimi, he does good work (and there are some really nice Raimi moments within this one) but he does his best work when he’s closely connected to the material. As a gun-for-hire, I feel he’s just going through the motions. And I felt that was what everyone was doing. For DiCaprio, it was early in his career – released the same year as the vastly superior Basketball Diaries. This is also Crowe’s first US film but he didn’t really make an impact over there until two years later with L.A. Confidential. As for Henrikson, well… I love him and so do many others but he’s not known for turning up in the world’s greatest films. Hackman does a fine job for what it is and Stone does what you expect. Even the soundtrack is lacklustre. Alan Silvestri does fine work and he’s serviced Westerns before (although not stereotypically) with Young Guns II and to a lesser extent Back To The Future III. What he does here is what you’d expect with all the nods in the right places and yet, there’s that persistant feeling of dialing it in.
The longevity of this flick will lie mostly in the fact that a) Sam Raimi’s take on the west b) Russell Crowe’s first Hollywood flick and sadly, c) Sharon Stone’s boobs. If you want to see a decent Western, this is not for you.
*Herod?! I know, right?