Viking Night: From Dusk Till Dawn
By Bruce Hall
January 26, 2016
From Dusk Till Dawn opens in promising fashion, with a casual conversation between a racist sheriff and a scruffy looking gas station attendant. There’s been a bank robbery, and the assailants have fled with a bag full of money and a hostage. The pudgy, half drunk lawman talks tough about what a hero he’s going to be when he single handedly apprehends the suspects, not realizing the conversation is being overheard. It’s a tense, exciting scene that throws you for a loop at first, and promises a potentially taut, exciting crime thriller.
And if it’s 1996, and the movie is directed by Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi, Desperado) and written by Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs), there was little reason not to be excited about that opening scene. But then, the scene turns into a wink-nudge farce as two characters walk away from a comic book explosion, casually delivering the trademark Tarantino wordplay that suggests humanity is going to be the least important commodity in this story.
And it is.
Seth (Quentin Tarantino) and Richie (George Clooney) Gecko are the bank robbers in question. Their big plan is to get to Mexico with the cash they’ve stolen, and to use their hostage to deal with whatever law enforcement throws against them on the way. Seth is what would happen if the Zodiac killer had unprotected sex with whatever keeps Stephen King awake at night. Richie is the “brains” of the operation (although that’s putting it lightly), a charismatic psychopath who promises their hostages they won’t be harmed, knowing that as soon as he leaves the room Seth is going to rape and/or murder them, and not necessarily in that order.
As the brothers make their way south, they cross paths with Jacob (Harvey Keitel), a wayward preacher traveling with his son Scott (Ernest Liu) and Kate (Juliette Lewis). Jacob hates God because his wife died, suggesting he may not have been all that devout in the first place. We never really find out about that, because this movie isn’t really interested in character development. Every scene is little more than a vehicle for the next one, as if the entire story were conceived around a single idea - what if we got THESE people and put them in THIS situation and gave them all guns?
The rest of the plot is merely an appendix to this conceit.
Naturally, The Geckos take Jacob and his kids hostage, and promise not to kill and/or rape any of them in exchange for a ride to Mexico. The Geckos are bad dudes who drink and drive, kidnap pretty young girls, and consider getting shot in the hand a minor occupational hazard not unlike getting smoke in your hair at a bar.
As if you can still smoke in bars. Thanks, Obama.
So, Jacob reluctantly agrees. At this point, you’d expect one of two things to happen. Either Jacob and his family find a way to outsmart their captors, with Jacob rediscovering his faith, and the Geckos either getting their comeuppance or learning a valuable lesson about the sanctity of life. Then, maybe we get a Straw Dogs style climax with an epic axe fight between Clooney and Keitel for all the marbles. Or, an outside influence could intervene, forcing everyone into an unlikely partnership where some alternate version of the above happens. Either way, the expectation is that we’re going to see some movement on the character arc needle before this is all over.
But… not so much.