Thursday, May 5, 2011

'From Dusk Till Dawn' is one of Tarantino & Rodriguez's best

From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
Starring: George Clooney, Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis, Quentin Tarantino, Ernest Liu, Salma Hayek, Tom Savini, Fred Williamson, and Cheech Marin
Directors: Robert Rodriguez
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

Professional criminals Seth Gecko (Clooney) and Richard Gecko (Tarantino) take a family hostage (including Keitel, Lewis, and Liu) and flee to Mexico following a robbery gone bad. Here, they take temporary refuge in an isolated strip club until they can meet up with their contact. But the club harbors are dark secret, and the Gecko Brothers and their hostages must work together if they are to survive the night.

There are a rare few movies that take as sharp, surprising, and, frankly, genre-hopping plot turns as "From Dusk Till Dawn" and not lose control and explode into a fiery wreckage. Even fewer do it as effectively as is done here, as, for the most part, they have no re-watch value, because the main point of the film is the sudden change in plot direction and once you've experienced it, there's no reason to go back.

But "From Dusk Till Dawn" is so jam-packed with action and grim humor that it's worth coming back to every few years; you will either find something in it that you missed the first time around, or there is simply so much going on that you only remembered the highlights.

The film succeeds first and foremost because of its strong script. Quentin Tarantino's writing has never been as good as it is here... maybe he should try writing a few more linear screenplays every now and then so he can focus on character and dialogue instead of trying to be clever. Nothing he has written before or since has so many funny lines and really well done black humor; like some of the best moments in "Pulp Fiction", you will find yourself laughing so hard you'll tear up, even if you know you shouldn't be laughing at the gory, nasty action unfolding before you.

Secondly, the direction from Robert Rodriquez is rock solid at every stage of the film's unpredictable course from the opening to closing credits. The first half is a tense, border-line psychological thriller about violent killers on the edge and innocent victims trapped in their grasp. The acting is solid and the cinematic approach is intimate in the way scenes are filmed. We can feel the emotional and physical threats that the various characters pose to one another, and we know that whatever will unfold in the hijacked RV, it's not going to end well.

But there's no way we can predict exactly how badly and strangely things are going to end, because the first half of the movie gives no hint whatsoever what is to come...

And Rodriquez not only manages the transition from thriller to gory and over-the-top violent horror movie monster fest, but he does so with such efficiency and style that the viewers are startled and surprised by the sudden genre change, but we are not confused or put off by it. We all have a "what the hell just happened?!" moment, but Rodriguez is in such tight control of his movie that even as the story explodes into complete and utter mayhem, he never loses our attention for a moment. In fact, the shock only pulls us tighter in. And, of course, his control is bolstered by the exceptionally well-crafted script from Tarantino.

Finally, there is the acting. Every performer in this film may be portraying stereotypical characters, but they do it with great conviction and zest. Every actor in the film brought their A-game to the shoot, and every character seems fully alive on the screen. Clooney is fantastic as the handsome but dangerous hood with a (small) heart; Tarantino is great as the whiny but crazy hood; Lewis rocks as the rebellious teenager who doesn't comprehend the danger she's in; and Keitel excels as the concerned and deeply religious father who just wants to get himself and his kids out of the situation alive. (Keitel is perhaps gives the most admirable performance of all, because it is unlike almost everything else I've seen him do.}

The supporting cast is equally superb in their performances, with Salma Hayek leading the pack as the strip club's main attraction--a stripper whose act involves a boa snake and other twisted elements--as she manages to be very sexy and very menacing, at the same time on occasion. Tom Savini, Fred Williamson, and Danny Trejo stand out as a pair of outlaw bikers that join the Geckos in their desperate attempt to survive the night, while B-movie mainstays Cheech Marin and John Saxon also appear in small but memorable roles, due to their good performances.

"From Dusk Till Dawn" is a film that succeeds on every level. If you have a taste for trashy entertainment and don't mind gore, it's a film that you absolutely must see. (And if you're reading these words and haven't seen it yet, you shouldn't waste another minute. Rent or buy it NOW!)