At the Movies with Alan Gekko: From Dusk Till Dawn “96”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Action-Horror/ Stars: Harvey Keitel, George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino, Juliette Lewis, Ernest Liu, Salma Hayek, Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo, Tom Savini, Fred Williamson, Michael Parks, John Saxon, Marc Lawrence, Kelly Preston, John Hawkes/ Runtime: 108 minutes

Don’t you just love it when a movie you think is going down a particular path decides to throw you a curve ball when you least expect it and now you have absolutely no idea of what to expect? The reason I bring this up dear reader is because the movie I am reviewing today known as From Dusk Till Dawn is perhaps one of the best curve ball kind of films. Indeed not only is this a film that goes one direction in the first half only to become an entirely different creature, literally, in the second part, but it is also a poster child for terrific work in the script department and is also an amazing constructed movie period. Indeed the fact that this film can be a pair of distinct films yet still operate as well as it does while also never feeling like it is toying with the audience or is disingenuous in any way, shape, form, or fashion is a serious check in favor of Quentin Tarantino’s talent as a screenwriter. Indeed this film is the blending together of a seriously whacked-out entry in the genre known as crime thrillers and a blood-drenched Cirque de Grotesque if you will. Indeed body parts and other carnage is littered everywhere you choose to look and regardless of the high toll taken by either the dangerous criminals and their captives or the blood-craving undead, film helmer, and Texas native, Robert Rodriguez’s movie is a mixture film that manages to work quite brilliantly. Indeed only Rodriguez and Tarantino could roundhouse kick the traditional structure in the face in such a way and then make something as edgy and gonzo as this into a mainstream success and a full movie that is ok with its actors both talking their jaws off and then blowing said jaw off with a 12-gauge shotgun.

The plot is as follows: From Dusk Till Dawn revolves a dynamic duo consisting of 2 brothers who go by the names of Seth and Richie. A pair of guys who are seemingly ordinary in every way….except for the tiny little detail that they happen to be runners from the long arm of that famous woman known as Lady Justice. Indeed it seems that the brothers are on the run from the law in the aftermath of a bold heist and are now in the midst of leaving a trail soaked in equal measure with blood and terror in their bold escape. However, when things go unexpectedly amiss whilst in a roadside liquor den, the brothers are forced to relocate to a tiny motel to hole up until everything settles down and they can head for Mexico where asylum, and tequila shots, awaits them. Sadly we soon learn that a tiny family unit, also headed south of the border, is about to cross paths with this dynamic yet also psychopathic duo. The head of this family unit, we soon learn, is headed by a former preacher by the name of Jacob Fuller who, since the death of both his wife and subsequently his faith, is looking to get away from his chosen profession and is bringing his 2 kids Scott and Kate along with him. To that end, we soon see our intrepid family taken hostage by Seth and Richie and forced to take them across the border to an otherworldly, and quite rowdy establishment known as the “Titty Twister,” where the two are meeting an old friend by the name of Carlos. Yet it isn’t long before a few rather unique aspects both about the bar and about her patrons and staff are revealed and soon our American quintet finds themselves faced with the rather difficult task of trying to make it through the night in one piece if possible and alive at all costs.

Now, when looking at first things first, this is a film which begins with a delightfully-written back and forth between a pair of characters who manage to talk about nearly nothing of any crucial importance save for the Super Mario Brother bandit pair at the heart of the story and how they already gone and done shot up the poor city of Abilene and are, at present, headin’ for the border; not to worry though because, according to one character, we’ll git’em. Yet this is all done in such a seemingly naturalistic way that their nonsensical ramblings actually prove to be just as if not more so riveting than the vast majority of crucial speeches in more mainstream fare. Indeed it is this sense of both amusing bull and both good-natured fun of sorts that is really what makes this film truly iconic. Indeed there really is no overarching message, and there is no divine purpose for this film except to make you gasp and nauseated at the same time, and to show that sometimes a film doesn’t need to work within the traditional methods or even possess a second act that ties to the first in the majority of ways in order to work with an audience. Ultimately though the dialogue between the small-town cop and the liquor store clerk that this film opens with also manages to be the best possible tone-setter for everything else the film throws our way after that. Sure you could argue that it is completely mindless, but it is also extremely entertaining and carried out extremely well and just as engaging as anything else you might find in the world of film.

Even with that in mind however, the film still is able to conjure up a terrific sense of intensity thanks to both the stellar work done on the script by Tarantino as well as the work done on the screen by this film’s truly committed and game cast. This starts with the lead role, arguably, of Seth and I feel it must be said that for all the terrific performances that we have gotten from George Clooney including the three movies he made in the Ocean’s series, Michael Clayton, and Fantastic Mr. Fox amongst others this is one which deserves more attention than it gets at times. This is because not only is the role of Seth undeniably tailor made to Clooney’s suavity and seemingly natural way with dialogue, but it’s also in how he manages to just roll with the punches and check himself no matter what happens that makes this one of the more truly iconic individuals in Clooney’s filmography. Playing the yang to Clooney’s yin is the film’s screenwriter and, as Richie, Tarantino does a weirdly good job at portraying the weird, quite icky, and potentially also a degree or 2 off the beat path so to speak brother in this dynamic duo. Indeed Tarantino has never been quite as effective when acting as he is when writing, helming, or both, but seeing how he is close to the top of his game in the other 2 categories, the fact that his acting is only a few notches below that is still worth taking note of. Also providing a phenomenal performance is the wonderfully dependable Harvey Keitel who does a terrific job at showing us a man of faith who although initially running from his troubles like a grindhouse Jonah soon, much like Jonah, runs head-on into God’s fury and is placed in a position where he must quickly figure out just how formidable his faith still is. Finally I guess it should also be noted that Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu also manage to bring forth a pair of terrific supporting performances in this as does a group of Rodriguez’ usual collaborators including Danny Trejo, Cheech Marin, Tom Savini, and Salma Hayek as some of the more…..unique we’ll call them patrons and staff at a bar that you would not be surprised to learn was on the Outer Limits of the Twilight Zone smack-dab in the middle of Hell. Suffice it to say then that everyone fits their role perfectly, and brings their all to this engaging and entertaining nightmare.

As for the second half of this film, it should come as no surprise to learn that it is pure Robert Rodriguez work through and through. Yes, to be fair, there are still the occasional quips coming from the characters, but the second part of this movie deals primarily in carnage; something that Robert Rodriguez is all too familiar in playing with to his advantage. Indeed I think it is safe to say that there are seldom few who could do all the blood-drenched and balls-to-the-wall gonzo action of the second half of this film work quite as well as he does. I mean this is a film where a simple bar south of the border within a matter of mere minutes it feels like turns into a smorgasbord of blood, organs, limbs, and hellfire to the point that the house band is even jamming on stage with a guitar constructed from a human torso and leg with lord knows what for the strings. Suffice it to say that this film is not for those in possession of a weak or unstable stomach, but seeing how Rodriguez manages to take away from the gruesome things being shown as well as the potent violent content with a sly sense of humor, he manages to take things down a decent amount. Thus we see that what could have potentially become a way to difficult to even sit down and watch showcase of over-the-top violence is beautifully transformed into one of the more brilliantly realized 45+ minutes in recent horror film history. Yes there will be those who say from a structure perspective, the first half is the best, but I would argue that the second half is the one that is entertaining. Indeed it really is quite something to see how these two completely different films in a sense manage to come together and just provide audiences with something that everyone who could potentially enjoy this film to treasure.

All in all in many respects I think it is safe to say that From Dusk Till Dawn is a perfect example of what would constitute as a test drive of sorts for a partnership between two of independent cinema in the 90’s finest forces of nature that would eventually come together again to create more magic in the form of the Grindhouse double feature in the 2000’s. Taken on its own merits however, this film is in and out of itself the very poster child of a pair of films uniting into one with the only real thread that binds them together being the film’s cast. Indeed the cool-as-ice dialogue, very-well staged, and wonderfully performed first half of this film may bear the signature of Quentin Tarantino, but the uber-violent and gore-a-plenty style fun that occupies the second half of the film is through and through Robert Rodriguez at his finest. Suffice it to say then that From Dusk Till Dawn is a terrific and yet also quite novel film that truly will offer something for most audiences to enjoy whilst also still being able to function as a solid film regardless of how quickly the film shifts both in regards to style and content from the first half to the second. On a scale of 1-5 I give From Dusk Till Dawn a solid 4 out of 5.