From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

From Dusk Till Dawn is the type of movie that only the duo of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino could team up to make. Here, Rodriguez serves as the director, while Tarantino wrote the screenplay, but I have to figure that these credits don’t tell the whole story. After watching the film, it seems quite clear that it was Tarantino’s film up until the halfway mark, at which point Rodriguez took over. Maybe Rodriguez really did direct the whole thing, and Tarantino was the one who wrote the entire script, but the different styles of each half make me thing that’s not exactly the case.

The first half of the film introduces us to our characters, and takes us on a fun little road trip. The initial leads are brother Seth (George Clooney) and Richie (Tarantino plays a large acting role here). They’ve recently robbed a bank, but figure if they can get to Mexico, they’ll be safe. Stopping at a motel, they kidnap a former pastor, Jacob (Harvey Keitel), and his two children, Kate (Juliette Lewis) and Scott (Ernest Liu). The five people end up heading to Mexico, and actually kind of bonding — as much as kidnappers and their hostages can, I guess.

It’s in this part that it feels like Tarantino was in the driver’s seat. The dialogue is very much akin to that of a Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs, and while there is little in terms of thrills, when that is attempted it is very successful. The way the characters interact is something to appreciate, and it helps set-up the second half very effectively; you can see how these people would wind up being able to work together if the circumstance arose in which they needed to.

That’s exactly what happens in the second half. The group stops at a bar, and then … something — which I don’t want to spoil — happens, leaving these characters to fight for their lives, mostly by working together. In a normal movie, it might be difficult to believe that captor and victims would cooperate so easily, but because of their bonding earlier on, it’s not such a stretch here. And, besides, this is no normal movie.

We essentially go from a semi-serious crime drama with atypical villains to a B-movie action flick in the blink of an eye. This genre subversion makes From Dusk Till Dawn stand out. It doesn’t start off like a campy B-movie, but that’s how it ends up. Having the star power involved is also beneficial, but that’s secondary. We have our expectations at the start — especially if you haven’t been spoiled regarding what the twist is and why the characters are put in an unfortunate situation — and then they’re shattered in an instant, and we start watching a different movie.

So, there’s something here for fans of both Tarantino and Rodriguez, which is a good thing for someone like me, who is a fan of both. You get the dialogue, drama and thrills from Tarantino’s part, and the camp, gore and silliness from Rodriguez. This mixture might not always work, but coming from these two men, it’s a great success. The result is a film that’s never boring, and keeps your attention for the entirety of its running time.

I think I liked the first part more, simply because of the actors. Watching George Clooney play the bad guy with a heart and a sense of style, while having fun doing it is very enjoyable, and seeing him clash with Harvey Keitel and Quentin Tarantino is absolutely worth seeing. Tarantino might not be the best actor around — I would argue that he should stay behind the camera whenever possible — but he turns in his best performance here, perhaps brought out by working alongside Clooney and being directed by Rodriguez.

Once the action starts, it’s fun, but anyone could be doing it. That’s why B-movies so rarely cast the big stars; they don’t need the extra budget or talent in order to succeed. And while it’s fun to see well-known actors going through the absurdity that From Dusk Till Dawn contains, they’re not really needed in order for it to work. All that’s needed is a lot of gore, a lot of cheesiness, and someone behind the camera with creativity. We have all of that here. The stars are but a bonus.

And what stars there are. Aside from the aforementioned actors, the film also contains supporting work from Salma Hayek as an erotic dancer, Cheech Marin, who plays three different roles, all of which are funny, Danny Trejo, Tom Savini, and Michael Parks. That’s quite the cast, I must say, and it’s simply fun to see them all working on a picture like this together. If there’s one thing I think Rodriguez did most of the work on, it was picking the cast. These seem like the type of people he’d choose.

From Dusk Till Dawn is a very fun movie that succeeds and stands out from the crowd primarily because of the talent behind it, and because of the way it completely disregards our expectations, subverting its own genre in order to surprise us. It has two distinct parts, representing each of the men that brought it to us — Rodriguez and Tarantino — and is something that only works because of their talent and creativity. It is absolutely worth a watch, and is a very enjoyable film from start to finish.

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