"No one's ever really guessed what hell is. It's watching the ones you… More"No one's ever really guessed what hell is. It's watching the ones you love...in pain"
After a nine year gap, director Robert Rodriguez finally returns to the dark graphic novel's of Frank Miller's Sin City and it's pugnacious inhabitants. Fans of the original (myself included) had been waiting with bated breath for more of the same but sadly this doesn't deliver as well as it could and feels somewhat flat in comparison.
Predominantly set as a prequel to the 2005 film, this time we follow the path of Dwight (Josh Brolin) as he tries to help out his old flame Ava Lord (Eva Green) from the clutches of a powerful mogul. Meanwhile, cocksure card-sharp Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has an old score to settle with his father Senator Rourk (Powers Boothe) at the poker table as Nancy (Jessica Alba) swears revenge on the same man for the death of her protector, John Hartigan (Bruce Willis).
There is much to admire in terms of it's stylistic approach and hard boiled, filthy noir but suffers the way many sequels do; it has no substance and lacks the originality of it's predecessor, leaving you with a heavy feeling of having trodden these paths before. Despite some excellent set-pieces the vibrancy of the original is lost and the characters don't gel as well as they did. The first film worked wonders by sticking to chapters where each one was meticulously threaded into the other but in this case, they cross over. There is no beginning middle or end and as a result, we end up with a muddled and incoherent narrative.
As much as the recasting choices are good it's hard to grasp just who's who. Sans Clive Owen as Dwight McCarthy we are given Josh Brolin before the characters facial reconstruction and as much as I admire Brolin, Owen was a better fit. Dennis Haysbert tries to fill the massive boots of the late Michael Clarke Duncan as Manute. Again, it's an admirable attempt but it's not as effective and the least said about Jeremy Piven taking over Michael Madsen's small role as Bob, the better. In fact, you would never be able to work out that it's the same character if you hadn't done your homework beforehand. On the up side, Mickey Rourke's Marv is just as much of a brutish treat as he was in the first outing but he's underused and Bruce Willis delivers nothing more than a cameo as the much trusted Hartigan. It's actually Eva Green who really shines most as a true femme fatale but maybe that's because she does more acting with her breasts than anything else, leading the film down a similar misogynist alleyway. Gordon Levitt's story is apparently tacked on and not an original part of Miller's stories but he's quite effective playing against a cigar-chomping Powers Boothe on fine form once again. Overall, the performances are good enough but they're given very little to work with and for all it's style, it's just not enough to see it past the post this time around.
Another example of how Rodriguez can be such a hit and miss filmmaker. Maybe if he concentrated less on producing, writing, cinematography, editing and music scores, he'd actually have enough left in the tank to concentrate on being a director. An admirable list of talents these may be but he so often bites off more than he can get his gums round and ruins what could have been a great experience. I'm saddened to say that I was left disappointed in this underdeveloped revisit to Basin City. Not so much hard-boiled and half-baked.
"Somebody's stickin' a red hot poker up our asses and I wanna know… More"Somebody's stickin' a red hot poker up our asses and I wanna know who's name's on the handle"
Before becoming a cinematic auteur a young Quentin Tarantino worked in the film rental store Video Archives in Manhattan Beach, and would often recommend little-known titles to customers. On one occasion, he suggested Louis Malle's "Au Revoir Les Enfants", to which the customer mockingly replied, "I don't want to see no Reservoir Dogs." And so the title of Tarantino's blistering debut film was born. It was originally planned as a $30,000 personal film with his friends, before Harvey Keitel showed an interest in the script and came onboard as the star and co-producer which helped hike the budget up to $1.5 million. The rest, as they say, is history. Tarantino had finally made his mark on the movie map and has since become one of the most highly praised directors of his, or any other, generation.
Crime lord Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney) and his son Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn) assemble a crew of trusted criminals who they appoint with colour coded aliases to protect their identity: Mr. White, (Harvey Keitel), Orange (Tim Roth), Pink (Steve Buscemi), Blue (Eddie Bunker), Brown (Quentin Tarantino) & Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen). Their plan is simple: rob a jewellery store and make off with the diamonds to a prearranged rendezvous. However, the robbery doesn't go down well and those that are left alive suspect that they have a police informant amongst them.
Few debuts have made as much of an impact on cinema goers as Reservoir Dogs has. It heralded the arrival of an energetic new writer/director and opened up the floodgates to numerous crime imitations thought the 1990's. Few, if any, achieved the same impact. However, there were some that criticised Tarantino for being a plagiarist. There were obvious references to films like Stanley Kubrick's The Killing, John Huston's The Asphalt Jungle, Joseph Sargent's The Taking of Pelham 123 and most notably Ringo Lam's City on Fire. Without a doubt, Tarantino was influenced by these movies but stealing is a very strong accusation. Now, many years and several more films down the line, I think it's fair to say that Tarantino has an extensive film vocabulary and often pays homage to some of his favourite filmmakers. Film knowledge may be deemed esoteric by some but in Tarantino's case it helped him craft three of the best films from the 1990's - along with Dogs there was, of course, Pulp Fiction and the vastly underrated Jackie Brown. And besides the point of plagiarism, it was Tarantino's dialogue (entirely his own) that received the most praise for it's true originality. His characters talk fast and the words seem to jump of the screen and that's exactly where Reservoir Dogs' strengths lie.
If it wasn't for the non-linear, chronology of events it would essentially be a chamber piece. Set largely within the confines of an abandoned warehouse, each character talks through what actually went wrong during their bungled heist. The heist itself is never witnessed as Tarantino decides to focus on the aftermath of the robbery rather than the event itself but it's the sharp and descriptive dialogue that allows these events to come to life in our imagination and each of the actors are allowed to spout their words with as much colour and vibrancy as their blood soaked shirts.
There are many highlights amongst the ensemble but the three that stand out the most are the loyally professional Harvey Keitel, a highly-strung and opinionated Steve Buscemi and the cold, psychopathic Michael Madsen. If I had any issues with the cast at all, it would be Tim Roth's tendency to overplay his work. He, by no means, delivers a poor performance but too often over acts and his personal section of the story interrupts an otherwise precisely structured flow. This is a small gripe as Tarantino still has a solid handling on the material and executes it with the deftness and skill of a director twice his age. On this evidence alone his extensive, esoteric knowledge of film certainly paid off - not only for him but for the viewer.
Heavily influenced by the likes of Martin Scorsese and Brian DePalma, among many other filmmakers, Tarantino was certainly not the first to use non-linear storylines, Steadicam techniques or distinctive soundtracks but he was a luminary to ambitious young directors that followed, and a lot of that came from this breathtaking film that set a whole new benchmark. One critic described Reservoir Dogs as "...a bloody, brash, brilliant heist thriller that grabbed audiences by the lapels and kneed them in the crotch"... I couldn't have put it any better myself.