Sam Raimi brings his frenetic style of zooming cameras and powerful camera angles to the western genre with a tale of revenge riding across the plains into an unforgiving town.
Sharon Stone who looks absolutely stunning in western getup stars as Ellen, a woman bent on vengeance. She rides into a frontier town to take part in a winner take all contest to see who is the quick, and who is dead.
It’s a gunfighting challenge, and the contestants must take on all challenges. Ellen has her eyes set on Herod (Gene Hackman) the leader of the town, who rules it sadistically and brutally, but no one is willing to stand up to him, but the town’s freedom may come if he falls during the contest.
Also joining the contest is Herod’s incredibly fast-drawing son, Kid (Leonardo DiCaprio), who is intent on getting his father’s recognition, and stepping out from under his shadow, a pair of hired guns, Ace (Lance Henriksen) and Cantrell (Keith David), and an old gunfighter pal of Herod, a man who has tried to turn to god, Cort (Russell Crowe in his American feature film debut).
Ellen only wants Herod, but will she be able to kill? She gets caught up in the town’s events, and an occasional romantic dalliance, but all of it is just to keep her focused on her task… Herod.
Featuring a score by Alan Silvestri, the story races along, revealing the true history of Ellen, and her target. In typical Raimi fashion, the camera always seems to be moving, finding those unique angles that will best tell the story.
Filled with moments of sudden and brutal violence, Raimi seems very at home in the western genre, paying homage to the spaghetti westerns of Leone and others. I love how Raimi’s style infuses one of the longest running genres in cinema with a modern vitality through the way it tells the stories, while still keeping the trappings expected of the era.
Stone brings Ellen, commonly referred to as The Lady to easy life, infusing her with a bitter, cynical edge while allowing her sensuality and sexuality. Watching her and the rest of the cast with their quickdraws and their action beats, they all look completely at home and the film plays out vidily.
Rounding out the cast is Pat Hingle, Tobin Bell, Gary Sinise, and Olivia Burnette, all of whom help bring Raimi’s vision to life. The costumes, the scenery, the location, the props give the film an authentic feeling, drenched in a bunch of dust and dirt, there’s a grittiness to the film even with its flashy camera nature.
But maybe because I’m partial to Raimi films, I really enjoyed this film and the performances in it. I didn’t appreciate it at the time when I first watched it back in the days of VHS, but man, I really enjoy it now.