Tuesday, February 20, 2007

My First Review

Reservoir Dogs was good. I mean, the movie was a visceral, yet chaotically funny take on how things could go horribly wrong. You know, the best laid plans of mice and men and all that. It had quite a few moments, an unforgettable one being the infamous ear-slicing scene with Michael Madsen and the cop. One hell of a debut, one that any director would’ve been more than happy to have. It received quite a bit of critical acclaim and did fairly well at the box office as well. Expectations were high.

So what does Tarantino do next? He pulls off the near impossible, coming up with an even better movie, a movie driven almost entirely by dialogue. Bizarre and totally inappropriate dialogue, but sparkling with wit, humour- dialogue begging to be quoted. And at the same time managing to be profoundly and improbably realistic. Not possible, that’s an oxymoron, you say? Watch the movie, say I, and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

Right, the plot(s). Tarantino displayed this penchant for playing with space and time in his debut, and he carries that forward into this movie. While it had a slightly disorienting effect in Reservoir Dogs, it is used very well here; probably because they seem to be stand-alone sequences, apparently unrelated. The movie opens in a diner with Honeybunny (Amanda Plummer) and Pumpkin (Tim Roth) discussing their previous robberies. They talk about how a diner/restaurant would be a far easier mark, and decide to test their theory right then and there. Cut to Story #1: Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace’s Wife. We see Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules (Samuel L. Jackson), Marsellus’ hit men, on their way to a hit. This is where Tarantino excels; in any other movie the dialogue would’ve been entirely plot driven, but here they talk about cheeseburgers and foot massages. And believe me, never have these items/services sounded this fascinating. Yet this doubles up as groundwork for later sequences, when we learn that Vincent has to take out Marsellus’ wife Mia (Uma Thurman) for a night on the town. Vincent is nervous about this job, because we all know what Marsellus did to the guy who gave Mia a foot massage.

Shit happens, and Mia accidentally overdoses. Vincent rushes her to the dealer Lance (Eric Stoltz) and his wife’s (Jody Arquette) place where they bring her back with a shot of adrenaline to her heart. So far, I’ve talked about Tarantino’s dialogue, but now let’s get into the visuals. This one’s a perfect example. It could’ve been one hell of a gut-wrencher, but we almost invariably end up laughing. Why? Because Tarantino never actually shows the needle going in. All we see is Vincent bringing his hand down in a stabbing motion, as Lance puts it. The next shot is that of Mia quite literally springing back to life, startling everybody. Brilliant editing. Another one’s the dance sequence with Vincent and Mia in the diner; I forget what its name was. I swear, I’ve never seen anything like it. Mia says she wants to win the dance competition and what Mia says goes. So they get on the floor and start dancing. They’re doing good, having fun (and at the same time managing to look uber cool), but they’re holding back at some level, which is apparent in the way their eyes hardly meet. I personally can’t think of a better way to showcase Vincent’s uneasiness at the whole thing and the way it rubs off on Mia.

And this is just the first story. The second one’s The Gold Watch, which has Bruce Willis playing Butch, a prizefighter paid by Marsellus to throw a fight. However, at the crucial moment, he decides his pride is more important and reneges on Marsellus, by going on to win the fight. Then he goes on the run with his girlfriend Fabienne (Maria de Medeiros), and the rest of the story deals with how he deals with the situation.

The Bonnie Situation kind of fills in the gaps and brings the plot together. We see Harvey Keitel as Marcus Wolf, summoned by Jimmy (QT himself in a brilliant cameo) to get rid of the ravaged corpse in the car before his wife gets home. Keitel turns in a superb performance as the professional troubleshooter as he quickly and efficiently deals with Vincent’s fatal blunder.

Finally, the now legendary diner sequence ties together quite a few loose threads and provides an immensely satisfying climax to the wild ride. The performances are all uniformly brilliant. Right from Samuel L. Jackson to QT himself, they play their roles almost to perfection. Tarantino extracts surprisingly first-rate performances from Travolta and Willis, actors not particularly known for their histrionic abilities.

The dialogue can’t be eulogized enough. From potbellies to divine intervention, we’re talking poetry all the way. Every single detail is in place. The situations are full of irony and double meaning; one can spend hours analyzing what Tarantino really meant. There is humour to be found in every situation, no matter how macabre. As for flaws, there are hardly any. You’re too busy enjoying the movie to think of anything else. I personally found the second story to be slightly off-colour. The movie loses steam slightly in the middle but comes back brilliantly.

In the final analysis, what we have is a master in love with his craft and culture, and that shines through in every single frame. He is clearly indulging himself, but in such a geeky, self-aware manner that you can’t help but admire his audacity. Have I been objective in this review? I don’t know. Do I give a damn? Most definitely not. Will I stop this question-answer thing? By God, yes.

I love this movie.

Author's note: This is the first review I wrote in my long and illustrious career as a writer of chaat. So far, I've written two; the other one was of Sholay. I wrote this around seven months back for my movie club. Please take the time out to read and tell me what you think of it.