DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: From Dusk Til Dawn

Wednesday 9 September 2009

From Dusk Til Dawn

From Dusk Til Dawn (1996) dir, Robert Rodriguez
Starring: Goerge Clooney, Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis, Quentin Tarantino


Most people are divided into two camps with 'From Dusk Til Dawn' - people who like the two act structure, and those who don’t. And most people who don’t like the split seem to prefer the first act hostage road movie to the vampire gore fest of the second half. I think I’m in rare group that prefers the extreme Rodriguez action to the Tarantino gabfest.

We all know the story. Seth and Richie are a brotherly duo of thieves and killers on the run from the cops. They’re in the desert trying to make their way into Mexico and meet up with their money laundering colleagues on the other side. Seth as played by then ER hunk George Clooney, in his feature debut, is the charismatic but ruthless anti-hero leader. Richie (QT) is the loose cannon rapist who annoys Seth at every turn.

Early on the serial killer tough guy bantering with pop cultural references feel forced and recycled from 'Pulp Fiction', 'True Romance', 'Natural Born Killers' et al. And in particular, Tarantino’s ugly presence standing alongside the dashing and handsome George Clooney is just too strange and out of place not to notice. The film gets a quick jumpstart with the appearance of Harvey Keitel as Jacob, the defrocked preacher who’s lost his faith and his two kids Kate (Juliette Lewis) and Scott (Ernest Liu) along for the ride.

When the new entourage of kidnappers and kidnap-ees reach the Titty Twister bar in Mexico Robert Rodriguez takes over. Even before the rampage of vampire action starts a we’re treated to some wonderful dialogue between Keitel and Clooney discussing Jacob’s lost faith, over a fun drinking contest. Tarantino might have a penchant for overly loquacious dialogue, but as evidenced in ‘Inglourious Basterds’, most of everything we hear is by design and pays off later. And with the eyes of a new millennium genre-savvy audience the transition from talky road movie to bloody carnage doesn't seem all that shocking.

The film’s self-awareness and acknowledgement of both cinema history and the filmmakers’ own previous films in hindsight, makes the switch a natural transition. After all, if the first half is QT’s film, then the second has to be Rodriguez’s film. The duo would essentially do the same thing with their ‘Grindhouse’ pictures years later, except with Rodriguez’s zombie-fare first and QT’s talkfest last.

Though we’re told the monsters are vampires, arguably it’s a Romero-influenced zombie film. And looking back, if we accept Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later” as the film that revitalized the zombie genre in 2002, for 1996, when “From Dusk Til Dawn” was made, puts Rodriguez and Tarantino way ahead of the curve. Enjoy.

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