For as much as “The Quick and the Dead” earns its “revisionist” label, the set-up is as traditional as it gets. A mysterious woman on horseback strolls into the small town Redemption, a silent observer to the histrionics of the much flashier and archetypical characters around her. There’s the young and impossibly talented hothead known as “Kid” (Leonardo DiCaprio), a glowering mercenary by the name of Cantrell (Keith David), a former outlaw named Cort who’s turned to preaching to redeem his many sins (Russell Crowe), and the big bad of them all — Gene Hackman’s Herod, the ferocious gangster currently in command and ruling Redemption. Once identities are revealed and motivations are steadily uncovered (through flowery monologues and evocative flashbacks alike), it’s clear that Sam Raimi and writer Simon Moore are working with a powder keg of storytelling that’s just waiting to combust.
And combust it does … at least once the Lady enters herself into the shooting tournament that Herod has set up for sport. As we learn, there are several competing interests among the main players. The Kid simply wants to impress his deadbeat dad, who happens to be Herod (although, beyond their shared expertise with a pistol, the disgruntled villain has no way of proving that). The townspeople have thrown their lot in with chosen champion Cantrell, hoping that he’ll prevail over Herod within the confines of the game and free them from his tyranny. Cort is thrust into the proceedings entirely against his will, forced into the violent lifestyle he thought he left behind as punishment for turning his back on old partner Herod.
And the Lady? Hers is the most personal of them all, having been forced as a child to participate in Herod’s murder of her father, Redemption’s old marshal.