Posted on 9/25/11 09:20 PM
Quentin Tarantino is the wet dream every little film dork regardless of the actual quality of his films. He started out working at a video store as an incredibly enthusiastic young film buff clerk eager to make eccentric recommendations to all those willing to ask. He set out to make this film with small time indie producer Lawrence Bender a friend who ride with him to top as a small affair only 30,000 towards production and with a small cast of Tarantino's pals. By providence cult crime movie bad ass Harvey Keitel became involved however and was so impressed with the script he agreed to act in it and co produce a risky venture for him. With Keitel the budget was raised to 1.5 million and things started getting bigger. The film was released to 19 theaters in 1992 and was played at the Cannes Film Festival to staggering results, the brazen dialogue and disturbing dialogue breaking through to the mainstream and hitting a nerve like few had before, many were repulsed by its brazenness but far more were impressed. Tarantino became a cult figure and was propelled to super stardom with his next bigger budget picture Pulp Fiction and the rest is history. Tarantino's divided audiences over the years but I can think of no better place to examine his cultural impact and just how talented he really is than his humble beginnings. Let's take a look, here stuck in the middle with you.
Our film begins with five unnamed criminals all given codes that are colors having a spirited conversation in a small diner. Mr. Brown (Tarantino giving himself another quote worthy cameo) is explaining to the group pretty colorfully about how "Like A Virgin" is all about a girl who likes a big dick while the rest contribute and make small talk. Hell of a way to make an opening Tarantino. Anyways the mysterious older mafioso man who set up some job with them Joe (Lawrence Tierney in one of his final roles) calls them all to order and we get a pretty slick intro of all walking in slow motion next to each other with a catchy 70s pop song playing. Flash forward to after the job, it seems they were pulling a jewelry heist we follow Mr. White (Harvey Keitel beginning his career second wind and showing he was still a bad ass) and a recently shot in the gut Mr. Orange (a very young Tim Roth who certainly sacrifices dignity for realism) who are driving back to an established rendezvous point in the warehouse. The fast talking and paranoid Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi in that rare and elusive perfect Steve Buscemi role) is the next to arrive on the scene and we begin to piece together the events of the heist, namely that they were in all probability set up due to the quickness of the cops arrival, that Mr. Brown and Blue have both been killed and by all accounts the strange Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen in his greatest role he would sadly never surpass) is a complete psycho who shot the place up. The bulk of the movie is contained inside the warehouse as they desperately seek a way out of atonement for their crime, breaking only for flashbacks about how Mr. White, Blonde and most shockingly Orange came to be on the team.
Like Lucas and Spielberg before him Tarantino has made a name for himself with modern re imaginings of the cult films he grew up with and with his debut he tackles the simplest a hodge podge of American, British and Chinese crime movies from the fifties through the seventies. He delivers each scene sparsely showing what needs to be seen and cutting out what doesn't even if that something is a character's head or body a very Eastern take on art that really shows Tarantino's greatest inspirations at work. The movie saunters beautifully at its own pace through its one and a half hour run time which feels a lot longer, though trust me not in a bad way. It propels itself consistently never lagging with sharp dialogue, a brilliant forgotten seventies pop songs soundtrack when deemed necessary (such as the brilliant torture scene) DJed by monotone cult comedian Steven Wright on an imaginary station and engaging you with characters that interest you and whose plight you feel for. Tarantino's minimalist take on visuals seeps into his characterizations as well, we know just how much we need to know about the characters backgrounds, motivations and personalities enough to get a feel for them without any extraneous explanations. Basically, we understand who Mr. Orange is without hearing his life story and how that factored into who he ultimately becomes a feat not many screenwriters can pull off in character driven films. Indeed, we never really see the heist because Tarantino in a Hitchcockian moment of brilliance figured why waste the budget, its better in your head when vaguely described and it's unnecessary to the ultimate ends of the film. This was a concept he would ultimately apply to many of his films most famously the briefcase in his follow up Pulp Fiction. Basically what keeps this from being perfect is simply that apparently a lot of this movie was plagiarized...er sorry "homaged." Yes a lot of this was apparently heavily inspired by other movies and books and such particularly the Chow Yun Fat heist movie City on Fire but honestly it doesn't bother me personally. It's like when I hear Led Zeppelin plagiarized some of their music, maybe this is terrible but I love the movie and have never seen and probably wouldn't have heard of the other were it not for it so all's well that ends well I suppose.
No doubt this is Tarantino's masterful debut, one of the greatest film debuts ever if not the greatest but what certainly helps is just how fucking good the cast is. One by one Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen and finally and most impressively Tim Roth unravel like onions playing both different types of bad asses and well rounded characters that both attract and repel sometimes at once. The first time I saw this I was hooked and I was a Tarantino fan for life and despite watching this so many fucking times I've memorized parts of it I still perceive it a little differently every time I see it. Madsen's character stuck as the coolest movie character I'd ever seen on my first viewing and I found the torture scene so fucked up it was almost amusing helped by the fact he was singing "Stuck In the Middle" while administering it (it's never sounded the same again)but since I've grown to be properly repulsed by the scene and instead admire Roth's character as the hero. Still the fucked up psychotic moments and the occasional gruesome ultra violent scene can't be discredited nor the crass language. It's what makes the movie so powerful and basically what makes it great, a lot of things factor into it of course but these two things which divided audience at the Cannes and have ever since is what what makes it unique and basically makes it a worthwhile endeavor to watch, the brutality shown in all its horrible glory amid a sea of play write level conversational dialogue few can match. At the end of the day, it's not for the weak of stomach but it's one hell of a movie that established one hell of a director and one of my personal favorites.