Paul Newman was truly one of the greats. Although gifted with classic wholesome good looks and his famous blue eyes, he didn't settle for classic parts, instead choosing challenging roles of conflicted characters, at odds with themselves. If anti hero films were a genre of their own, Newman would be one it's patron saints. He preferred films and characters with a message, or sometimes just a question. Few actors have had the staying power of Newman, whose career lasted from 1952 to 2006. His consistency is well demonstrated by his 1986 return to the Fast Eddie character, he had created in 1961, finally winning a long deserved Oscar. In all that time, his acting never lost it's power and his presence could make even a bad movie watchable. In movies like the Road to Perdition, his relatively small part made a good movie great. This list has many omissions as I could choose ten and keep it a top ten list. Feel free to leave suggestions in the comments, as I'd love to hear your thoughts. Outside of the movies, he seemed a much nicer person than his characters, becoming as well known for as philanthropy as he ever was for his acting. Who knows, maybe all those parts taught him something. But we'll certainly never see another like him. Rest in Piece Paul Newman, "The King of Cool."
10)Brick Pollitt, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
9)Ben Quick, The Long Hot Summer
Powerful town figure Will Varner (Orson Welles) has a problem, he'd like to have a grandchild before he dies. Not thrilled with the prospect of either of his not very masculine son's producing offspring, he decides to pair up his daughter Clara (Joanne Woodward) with the shady, driven and hyper masculine Ben Quick, a natural con man and suspected criminal, just drifting through, who sees the well off Will Varner as a great profit opportunity, taking a job under Will with the intention of turning it into more. Will quickly sees Ben as more capable of handling the family business than his own sons, which sets up some serious conflict. Clara doesn't like being thought of as property, which sets up a different kind of conflict as Ben is determined to get what he wants. His only real obstacle is that Clara is a lot stronger than he anticipates, and to get what he wants he ends up giving up a little more than he thought he would.
8)Lew Harper, Harper
Lew Harper is a PI out of the Sam Spade school with some contemporary touches. Hired to find Mrs. Sampson's (Lauren Bacall) missing husband, he has to fight and quip his way through a practical carnival of characters, including an armed lawyer, a fading entertainer, a jazz singer, a guru scam artist, and all sorts of thugs, finding more mysteries than he started with. Harper doesn't trust anyone and isn't hung up on pride or principles. he just wants to make a buck. He's not above fishing coffee grounds from the trash to make his morning coffee or making prank calls to amuse himself. He devastates everyone he runs into verbally, while snapping chewing gum. The real question we arrive at is does he care about solving the case more than making a buck, believing as he does that "The bottom is loaded with nice people, Albert. Only cream and bastards rise." You can bet that Harper doesn't plan to hang out on the bottom for too long.
7)The Sting, Henry Gondorff
6)Michael Gallagher, Absence of Malice
Michael Gallagher (Paul Newman) is a businessman whose father was a powerful crime figure. When a prosecutor can't make any headway on a certain murder case, he figures that "leaking" information that Gallagher is suspected of involvement will flush out some information. This is only possible with the cooperation of ambitious young reporter, Megan Carter (Sally Field) The story has serious consequences for Gallagher, even costing him the life someone he loves. Megan's story, although false is protected due to "Absence of Malice" Rather than assist in the investigation, Gallagher sets out to even the score in his own way, which is made easier by everyone underestimating his intelligence. A brilliant performance that makes you reevaluate who the good guys are sometimes.
5)John Russell, Hombre
John Russell was raised by the Apache, and considers himself one of them. When his stepfather dies and leaves him a boarding house, he decides to sell it and head to Arizona. This puts the boarding house manager, Jessie, (Diane Cilento) out of work, leading John and Jessie to take the same stage coach. They're joined by Alex and Audra Favor, a well to do couple who profit from shorting the Apache's food shipments, and Cicero (Richard Boone) a thug who forces his way onto the stagecoach in order to set up a robbery. Hearing of Russell's Apache ties, Audra asks that Russell ride on top of the coach rather than share their space. She is taken by the band of robbers afterwards although Russell holds off the robbers enough to keep the money and water, which the robbers become desperate for, intertwining the two groups. Russell has no love for any of them, seeing the affair as a coldly practical matter of survival. He ends up their only chance at survival and luckily for them, he's willing to save them even if they don't deserve it.
4)Butch Cassidy, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Butch (Paul Newman) and Sundance (Robert Redford) are great friends a partners in robbery. Set in the Wild West, the two live by their wits, Butch being the brains, Sundance, the sharpshooter. After a train robbery goes wrong, they're pursued by a relentless posse, and they decide to head to Bolivia. This doesn't stop their robbing habits however (after a brief attempt at going straight.) They soon end up pursued by not only the Bolivian police but the military as well. Based on actual events, it's an interesting film in that the ending is grimmer than the actual story, which leaves open the possibility that Butch and SUndance got away and lived in hiding for many years. While, it's a fun and solid story, it's the chemistry and energy between Newman and Redford (and Katherine Ross, playing Sundance's girlfriend Etta Place) that make this movie brilliant.
3)Fast Eddie Felson, The Hustler
2)Hud Bannon, HUD
Hud Bannon is the surviving son of Homer Bannon, (Melvyn Douglas) an old school rancher, who values family and morals, far more than profit. Hud is Homer's opposite, thumbing his nose at conventional morality, by habitually sleeping with married women, and urging Homer to look out for himself, when an epidemic hits their cattle. Hud is also looked up to by his nephew Lon, (Brandon De Wilde) a wet behind the ears young man who hs been raised by Homer. Lon finds Hud's selfish, thrill seeking lifestyle intriguing, but he also feels loyalty to Homer's homespun values, although Homer has his own flaws. Despite his seemingly simple amorality, Hud is a complex character, with deep motivations, guilt and disappointments. Despite his charm, he doesn't always get what he wants either, thanks to Alma (Patricia Neal) the Bannon's housekeeper, and eventually "the one who got away." A deep and beautiful movie about Lon's choice, and the changing of patriarchs to match the times.
1)Luke, Cool Hand Luke
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Thursday, March 24, 2011
What About it?
(for a detailed summary, see "What Happens" below.)
Lady Vengeance is the third and last part of Park's "Vengeance trilogy," consisting of, in order, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Old Boy and Lady Vengeance. Without getting too much into the preceding films, it would seem that Park was aware that this was the final piece in the trilogy, approaching vengeance from a completely different point of view, no less violent but more passive in the planning, feminine as the other side of masculine. While Geum-ja is certainly not immune to rage at times, she doesn't feed it testosterone, but rather plans the details carefully, down to the "pretty" adornment on her custom made pistol. "Everything should be pretty." she says, although clearly some of that is out of her control. It's noted in the film that people were shocked as much by her beauty as by the horrific crime she served time for. There's no denying that her appearance affects her story and the actions of those around her.
While a man can easily be accepted as noble yet flawed, Geum-ja doesn't receive that same consideration. Many in the story (herself included) can't accept that "kind hearted Geum-ja" is also capable of horrific murder. A sort of accommodation is made, when she takes over the nickname "Witch" after killing Ma-nyeo by feeding her bleach for three years. She retains the nickname "Kind hearted Geum-ja" and adds the other as an alternate. This allows others to deal with her contradictions, although her beauty still makes them prefer "Kind hearted Geum-ja" as if beauty and kindness must be linked. Once out of prison, she has no desire to be seen as kind hearted, and the red eye shadow shows us her desire to be seen as harder than that.
We could assume that her "conversion" was an act in order to build alliances and further her plan. That doesn't seem sound to me however, as the concepts of sin and atonement clearly plague her constantly. Her deepest desire would seem to be to "live white" yet she doesn't consider the preacher's tofu for an instant as she is on a course she feels she cannot deviate from. She chooses to be "the Witch" to complete her task which will require heavy sins. Her sins are the main reason for her revenge, as she tells Jenny "He made me a sinner." While it's true that she didn't murder the boy, it's also true that she was involved in the the process including the kidnapping. This is not an innocent woman imprisoned for a crime she didn't commit. It's more a case of a woman who claims complete guilt when she should only claim a part. She has sinned. She feels this acutely, and adds to the list while in prison, leaving a true murderer, which morally renders the wrongness of her imprisonment a moot point. When she leaves, she has earned her sentence and more. While it's true that her actions helped other inmates, she sees them as sins anyway. She does however, claim what she's owed for her kindness, enlisting each woman she's helped to help complete her plan.
In the favors she collects, Geum-ja becomes worse than Ma-nyeo. She spares two woman sexual abuse and humiliation from Ma-nyeo, but then requires that Yi-jeong become the girlfriend of the monster, Mr. Baek. We are shown quite clearly what she must endure as the man she despises comes to think of her as property, to be thrown over the kitchen table for his pleasure, as a mild dinner interruption. Yi-jeong torture has an element that her struggle with Ma-nyeo never had. She must not only endure it, but she must cause it to happen and appear to welcome it, at Geum-ja's request. WHile some of Guem-ja's fellow inmates are asked for nothing more than help building a gun, it's plain that she will ask whatever she feels is required to accomplish her goal. The witch is capable of this so she clings to that perception of herself.
Her attempts at maintaining a pristine duality however, are foiled by Jenny's presence. Taking Jenny with her to Korea was not in her plan, yet she's unable to refuse her. This forces "kindhearted Geum-ja" and "the Witch" to share the same space. It's not coincidental that this happens shortly before capturing Mr. Baek. The Geum-ja that finally faces Mr. Baek, is Geum-ja with a daughter in tow. Her malice has not disappeared, but she has become more hesitant. Finding the key chain full of souvenirs from murdered children allows her to step back, her intricate and precise plan altered. Her new plan tellingly places the ultimate responsibility on others. It also mirrors her first offense. Geum-ja is responsible for the kidnapping and for being present, but does not commit the murder herself. Giving responsibility for Mr. Baek's fate to the parents of those he murdered does have an appealing symmetry, and on the surface may appear to be an attempt at justice. It may well be a plan that proves helpful to the relatives, providing some closure and personal power, but becoming a murderer to punish a murderer is sure to leave some scars as well. Geum-ja has at the very least, placed the relatives in her own position, perhaps trying to thin her own sin and guilt.
I don't think there's ever much question at the choice the relatives make. Turning the murderer over to the courts would appear to others as a confession that they didn't care enough about their lost sons. Perhaps individually reason would factor in more heavily, but once a "group" is formed, the likelihood of anything but drastic action is eliminated. As each party "visits" Mr. Baek, Geum-ja observes in the room, just as she observed Baek kill Won-mo. She did not kill him, but set up his death and was an active participant in it. That said, Geum-ja does not attempt to dodge the guilt. She accepts that she is not worthy to eat from the white cake, that she offers to her daughter. Yet, the white flakes of snow falling as if a taunt, are finally what break her resolve. She is forced to see that whatever her guilt, it is she herself who is clinging to the role of the "sinner." while "whiteness falls from the sky anyway.She not only tries to eat the cake but buries her face in it, as if to smother herself with "white."
The narrator says "Geum-ja made a great mistake in her youth, and used other people to achieve her own goals. But she still didn't find the redemption she so desired. In spite of this, no. because of this, I liked Geum-ja." Geum-ja who prays constantly and believes firmly in atonement, desires redemption more than anything in the world, yet has set herself against it, in order to achieve "justice." She has grown used to being, the "witch" and the "sinner." The woman avenging the fact that she has become those things, no longer feels those things, simply sees the errors that must be corrected. The ritual is observed. Won-mo will not accept her apology, as is his prerogative, but he does appear before her with a cigarette, shortly before Jenny is awakened by smoke and sent running towards her mother. Her path to redemption is simply her daughter's answer when she tells her to "Be white. Live white. Like this." Jenny (who sees not a "sinner" but a mother she loves and wants to understand) simply says "You too." and offers a taste of her own white cake. Without her many sins, would she ever have arrived at that place?
Technically the movie is beautiful, Park's attention to each shot in the film makes it ate times feel like a fairy tale and at others a gritty cautionary story. He notices the color of skin and of shoes and how the colors affect each other. He's also very playful with the fact that it is a film and doesn't need to hide it. There's a scene where Jenny is looking at the clouds in Australia, and sees them spell out "You have no Mom" only to have the "NO" disappear a moment later, heralding Geum-ja's arrival. Geum-ja looks at a photo of Jenny, which makes faces at her, when she considers that Jenny shouldn't leave the nice parents she lives with. These flourishes can happen at any time, breaking from the rules of the narrative, to remind you that anything could happen. I should mention that for this review I watched the standard color version of the film, but there is also a version called the "fade to black" version in which the film gradually shifts to black and white. Having seen the fade to black version first, I prefer it, but the color version is certainly beautiful as well. The story itself is very simple, which is not to say it has no depth. In the story's framework, we're presented with questions about many basic "truths" Ultimately this is a beautiful film about ugly things, which need to be faced before accepting a greater beauty, that of a "sinner" finding a moment of grace, which is only possible, because it's undeserved.
Yeong-ae Lee is transcendent as Geum-ja, her character covering such extremes that we would have trouble, as her fellow characters did accepting that one woman contains both the "angel" and the "devil" She displays every emotion possible here and believably enough, that like Geun-shik, we're tempted to dismiss what she's done, given the first excuse that allows it. Min Sik Choi is also great. WHile it's a relatively small role, his presence (after starring in Old Boy) gives a satisfying sense of continuity, not that the two characters share very much. Yae Yong Kwon's Jenny is also wonderful as her peart is more demanding than it looks, giving Geum-ja a believable reason to hope and to listen. The other performances are all top notch, particularly when there are so many characters involved. Everyone's presence adds to the whole. Even the relatives of the murdered boys give strong showings, remarking considering they're all introduced at once, near the end of the film. The nature of their gathering allows some chaos, but they don't step on each other, and everyone of them adds to the picture rather than takes away from it.
Lady Vengeance is a fitting end to the trilogy. It doesn't attempt to sell us anything like "sometimes revenge is justified." or "Murder is Ok for the right reasons." This a world where terrible things happen, and are answered with more horrors. Life is no easily solved equation. The murderer Mr. Baek says "There is no such thing as a perfect person." and we must agree, although this truth does not gain him any consideration. That doesn't make murder less horrible. It doesn't matter whether killing Mr. Baek is justified, it was a course of action they couldn't turn away from, tied as it was to their pain and the love of their missing sons. The real question posed is, once that has been done, how do you live with it? We don't see how the relatives deal with it, although perhaps they continue to celebrate it as a "birthday." believing their sons are now angels passing by. We only see Geum-ja grasping to make herself right, as anyone must do, if none of us is perfect, She sets aside her need for atonement to accept a gift and where this takes her we don't know, but it's a miraculous moment that could be the start of anything and we can understand the narrator saying that it was not in spite of her mistake, but because of it, that she liked Geum-ja. I understand, because I like her too, and I'd like to think she can "live white" after so much striving.
Geum-ja Lee (Yeong-ae Lee) has spent thirteen years in prison for the murder of a little boy and is about to be released. We see a group of carolers dressed in bright red Santa Claus suits, waiting for her release. One of them remarks that Geum-ja is rumored to be an angel. A man dressed in normal clothes, the Preacher ( Byeong-ok Kim) waits with them and seeing her come out, directs them to sing. Guem-ja approaches, stops and stares at the camera stone faced. Although it's snowing and very cold she is wearing only light clothing. The preacher asks about the winter clothes he sent her, and then uncovers a big block of tofu, presenting it to her. Grinning, he says " It's been hard, hasn't it? 13 and a half years. I'm so proud of you."
We see news footage about Geum-ja, covering the murder of a little boy, Park Won-mo. One of his class mates describes the last time he saw the boy. We're told that Geum-ja, 19 years old at the time, confessed to the murder and we see her in police custody before a crowd. The news announcer explains that as shocking as the brutal murder was, everyone was more shocked at Geum-ja's good looks. A director wanted to make a movie about her, and the public took to wearing polka dot dresses, similar to what she wore when arrested.
We see Geum-ja, newly in prison, meeting with the preacher who says "Behind that wicked witch's face of yours, I saw the presence of an angel." We see her praying with the preacher. She tells another prisoner "An angel, could that be true? Do you really think an angel resides in me? If so, where was that angel when I was committing such an evil act? I always wondered about this after hearing what the preacher said, and then I realized, that the angel inside me only reveals itself when I invoke it." We see Geum-ja helping other prisoners. She comforts an elderly woman, does another woman's make up, bakes a beautiful cake, and helps a woman study. She explains that the act of invoking an angel is called prayer and says "Actually, prison is an ideal place to learn to pray, because we know that we are all sinners in here." We see that Geum-is speaking into a microphone and there's a banner behind her which says "Testimonials of faith day for Inmates, 1997" She receives much applause from prisoners and officials alike. The preacher is extra enthusiastic, standing to clap for her.
We then catch up with the preacher and Geum-ja in present day, resuming with a look at the tofu block. The preacher explains "It's a tradition to eat tofu on release, so that you'll live white and never sin again. Geum-ja reaches for the tofu, but rather than take it she intentionally knocks it to the ground, stunning the carolers and leaving the preacher shaken, in tears. She looks at him coldly and says "Why don't you go screw yourself?" and leaves.
Guem-ja visits a hair salon to see her friend and former fellow inmate, Kim Yang-hee (Yeong-ju Seo) Kim is overoyed to see her, crying and giving Geum-ja a hug. We flashback to prison, and see Yang-hee arriving, mentioning that she heard of someone in this prison whose "face would shine." Yang-hee is tripped by another inmate, Ma-nyeo (Ko Su-hee) also known as "the witch" before they all go to bed. While everyone sleeps, we see Geum-ja from behind, sitting, facing a wall, as her face gives off a very bright light.Kim recounts her offense, strangling her pimp. Geum-ja teaches her to pray and lament past lives, and we see that Kim's face glows when she prays. In the present, Kim brings Geum-ja to her home. Kim tries to be affectionate and when Guem-ja is only cold, she remarks that she's changed, and asks if she's started the plan already. Geum-ja says "No. The plan was already started 13 years ago." THey go to to bed, and Geum-ja prays until having a vision of a snowy wasteland, where she is dragging what appears to be a dog with a man's head across the snow. She looks him in the eye and says "Farewell" and shoots him in the forehead. We see that she has dark red eye shadow as she smiles afterwards. We see that the sleeping Geum-ja is also smiling.
The next day we see Geum-ja walking down a city street and ending up at Won Mo's parents' kitchen table. Geum-ja has a knife in her hand and slams it down, cutting off one of her own fingers. We're told that she planned to beg their forgiveness until she had no fingers left. The parents are horrified and call an ambulance. Won-mo's father restrains her while they wait for it to arrive. All of the money she had, is needed to get her a finger operation. Days later, she finds work at a bakery, working for a Mr. Chang (Dal-su Oh). She unintentionally causes a scene when a young employee, Geun-shik (Shi-Hoo Kim) is so taken with her beauty that he drops everything he's carrying. He awkwardly asks if he can call her "elder sister." She responds "Just call me Geum-ja."
We see her meeting with another ex fellow inmate, Woo Soo Yong (Bu-Seon Kim) who describes the early days of prison, saying "She cried like a baby.Man, it was so depressing." We see a flashback of this happening, and her cell mates getting annoyed with her. A quick flashback shows her robbing a place in a mask with her boyfriend. She explains that she felt like she was going to die because she couldn't be with him. We then see her passing out in the prison yard, as she narrates that she had kidney failure, adding "Then this bitch says she'll give me one of her kidneys. It's not as if a kidney's a bit of fluff, you give away so easily." We see Geum-ju in the medical ward in the bed next to her.Geum-ja looks at her and says "Damn bitch. It brings me bad luck. Stop crying!" before smiling. Geum-ja then meets Woo Soo's boyfriend and we see another flashback of the robbery, as he describes how fearless she was saying he's "married to a goddess." Woo Soo blames him being at her side for her fearlessness. The two fawn all over each other while Guem-ja stares at them expressionless. Woo Soo tells her boyfriend that Geum-ja is "readying a magnificent plan." and asks him to help her. Geum-ja produces a book which contains many folded pieces of paper, which they pin to the wall, producing what looks like plans to build a gun. He asks where she got it, and we see another flashback in prison.
Guem-ja is sitting with an elderly woman, Ko Sun-sook, who tells her "Go save yourself." Ko was a spy from North Korea who had Alzheimer's. She speaks to Geum-ja about dogs and chicken bones, while Guem-ja calmly looks after her. We're told that she volunteered to do this. She gives Geum-ja the book, saying "for you have vengeance to take, comrade."
We meet another inmate via flashback, Oh Soo-hee (Mi-ran Ra.) We see her getting taking advantage of by a Ma-nyeo, who forces Soo-hee to pleasure her. This happens again another day in the prison bath. Behind them, we see someone cleaning the floor with a mop and leaving. Once sexually satisfied, the tough woman walks away while Soo-hee cries. She slips on the wet floor however, and hits her head on the floor. Soo-hee looks back and sees this, as well as Geum-ja returning to the room looking over the woman's body. Geum-ja waves at Soo-hee, showing a bar of soap in her hand. Soo-hee in the present asks about the red eye shadow. Guem-ja answers "People are always saying I look kind hearted." Soo-hee is a sculptor, and Guem-ja hands her a paper with a drawing, asking if she can make it in silver. Soo hee asks is she's killed "the bastard" yet. Guem-ja says "Not yet." and says she's been busy. She agrees though that she's "saving the best for last."
We see Guem-ja at work at the bakery. A man seems fascinated with her and approaches her saying she's changed a lot and he barely recognized her. The man is the detective who was in charge of her case. When the detective's wife asks who Geum-ja "was" Geum-ja tells her story, even teasing the woman saying "I kidnapped and killed a boy...Don't worry, I didn't eat him." The woman leaves the bakery, hysterical, dropping her goods, saying "These were made by hands that have killed." We flashback and see the detective questioning her. Geum-ja is almost angry, insisting that she killed the boy. The detective doesn't seem convinced, asking her to describe a marble the boy had, which went missing, which she can't do. We then see the police escorting her through crime scenes, forcing her to reenact how she did it. At all the scenes, Mr. Baek (Min-sik Choi) is there, and makes slight finger gestures which appear to have some meaning to her.
Guem-ja visits an adoption agency. The woman there tells her she can't give out any records. We flashback to see 18 year old Geum-ja, who the narrator describes as "pretty enough to turn any boy's head, but wasn't the least bit particular." We see her calling her teacher, Mr. Baek, reminding him that he told her she was sexy. She tells him that she's pregnant and asks if she can live with him. He asks about her parents and the baby's father, but she says her parents don't want her there, and the father is "just a big kid, not ready for fatherhood." We see her at Mr. Baek's place, getting surprised that he comes to see her, right out of the shower without clothes. Back in the present, Geum-ja climbs up the building where the adoption agency is, breaks a window and steals some files.
She then goes to the bakery late that night, surprising Mr. Chang. She asks him for an advance. He says no, but she helps him decorate a cake which he seems to have trouble with, as his hands are shaky. He tells her that he was astonished at a strawberry mousse made by a prison inmate who, using poor ingredients, made a dessert "fit for a king." (referring to her) She just says "Three months advance." He doesn't agree but she acts as if he does, writing down her bank account number, and leaving the cake looking magnificent. She leaves with Guen-shik, who is asking her about killing, figuring she had done something wrong and paid for it and that was it. She tells him however, that she's planning to kill someone else.
He's nervous around her, and talks about his future. She gets him back to his room and propositions him to have sex, taking him completely off guard. Afterwards, she tells him, "Mr. Baek said there are good kidnappings and bad kidnappings. He said it was a good kidnapping if the child was returned safely. ANd since they're rich, a little ransom wouldn't make much difference. And, although they'd have to worry for a few days, the emotional reunion would make the family bond more closely. That's what he said, but then he went and killed Won-mo. The boy kept crying and Mr. Baek said he'd kill him if he didn't stop in five minutes. But then he really did kill him. If he were alive, he'd be your age now, but he's dead. Then the police found a witness. SOmeone saw me taking Won-mo to a bathhouse.Then one day when i came home from the market, my daughter was gone. I got a call from Mr. Baek. He said to confess and take all the blame or my girl would die too. The kidnapper had kidnapped a kidnapper's kid. Isn't that funny?" She gives him her keys and tells him to keep her candles burning.
She flies to Australia, where her daughter lives with adoptive parents. We see her reading them a letter in English, which says she came to see her daughter "once and for all." They don't seem very pleased about it, but they have drinks and they lighten up. The stepmother (Anne Cordiner) tells Geum-ja she's jealous, that she had such a beautiful daughter, but adds "She is now our life!" Bothe her and Geum-ja laugh wildly about it, geu-ja laughing herself right out of her chair. The stepfather (Tony Barry) shows her a picture and says "We love her very much. She's got such a beautiful soul." The stepparents quickly shift from laughing to crying the stepmother saying "What would we do without our Jenny?" That night Geum-ja shares the room with her daughter Jenny (Yea-Young Kwon) who asks if she can take her to Seoul. Geum-ja refuses, reminding her of her "parents." Jenny won't accept that answer and the two argue loudly. In the morning we see the stepparents on the couch looking devastated. Jenny flies to Korea with Geum-ja.
We see that her plans are coming together, The pistol is completed and has elaborate silver sculpting on the handle. Woo Soo Young asks "What's the use of all this fanciness?" Geum-ja insists "It has to be pretty. Everything should be pretty." Woo Soo Young's boyfriend tells her she'll need to be up close as it has a very short range. That night, before bed Jenny asks "Why'd you dump me?" Geum-ja answers by telling her they'll go on a picnic. She asks again, however. This time she answers "That's right, a picnic." Jenny wakes up in the night and sees Won-mo playing marbles. She goes back to bed when he doesn't speak English.
Geum-ja takes Jenny out the next day and they pick up a puppy. Geun-shik drives them around and Jenny sits in the back seat painting her face to look like a cat. They go out into the woods and find an abandoned schoolhouse. Geun-shik tries to teach Jenny Korean, while Geum-ja takes the gun out for practice.She remembers Mr. Baek in a classroom. We see Mr. Baek eating dinner with a younger woman. He gets up while she's still eating and lifts up her dress from behind, initiating sex. While he's taking her, she informs him of dinner plans. He insists that she isn't the one to pay. We see the caption showing that her name is Park Yi-jeong (Seung-shin Lee) and she served time with Guem-ja. He sits back down at the table to finish his dinner. We see Yi-jeong 's flashback to prison. She's being bullied by Ma-nyeo who had intimidated Oh So-hee, only she's getting beaten up.
Geum-ja is later feeding Ma-nyeo in the medical ward. We see that her hair is coming out in clumps. Ma-nyeo says "I used to have a strong stomach. I don't know what the problem is." Geum-ja smiles and feeds her and says "I enjoy helping you." Ma-nyeo remarks "You really are kind hearted." Ma-nyeo is having serious and audible stomach issues. She reassures Geum-ja that she only likes "plump girls." Geum-ja however, tells her, that she'd be happy to eat a lot and put on weight as long as she keeps taking her "medicine." which Geum-ja then puts all over her food. Ma-nyeo leans over to get sick and Geum-ja adds "And, hurry up and die." We see Yi-jeong asking Geum-ja later "You fed her bleach? For how long?" Geum-ja says "Three years." After that Guem-ja inherited the nickname "Witch" which Ma-nyeo had, but was still called "kind hearted Geum-ja." We see Park talking with Geum-ja, saying "It has to be tonight, I can't take it anymore." The narrator explains that another ex inmate found where Mr. Baek was working and they arranged to have Park Yi-jeong visit him, leading to a "romance."
The preacher meets Mr. Baek in a classroom. He gives Mr. Baek a picture of Geum-ja at the bakery, meeting with Yi-jeong . He pays the preacher, who says the money will be used for the lord's work. Mr. Baek calls Yi-jeong, (while looking at pictures of her and Geum-ja) and she tells him to start dinner without her. He says he'll wait. We see that he has two other men at the table with him. Guem-ja calls, and Park tells her she has to make Mr. Baek eat before they do something. The two men who were with Mr. Baek, watch Geum-ja leave work with Jenny. The men attempt to abduct them and we see that Park has already been delivered to Mr. Baek, and she watches him eat while tied to a chair. They beat on Geum-ja for a while assuming she's unconscious. She surprises them by getting up and shooting the closest guy in the head, while the guy holding Jenny attempts to back away. She catches him getting right up to him before firing.
We see that Mr. Baek has fallen unconscious with his face right into his plate. A badly beaten Yi-jeong laughs. Geum-ja and Jenny get there and Geum-ja pushes him to the floor with a spoon. She then starts cutting off his hair. Shortly, we see Yi-jeong and Geum-ja with Mr. Baek bound on the floor and Jenny asleep nearby. Geum-ja finds a letter Jenny had written, explaining how she felt about being dumped, that she wants to know the reasons, and telling her saying sorry once is not enough, but she should apologize at least three times. Geum-ja uses a Korean-English dictionary to read the letter. Yi-jeong drives to the abandoned classroom they'd found on their picnic, with Jenny and Mr. Baek in the back.
Geum-ja writes a letter to Jenny, explaining that she wanted to have her very much and loved her, but had to go to jail. She adds that she plans to return her to Australia when she's done with Mr. Baek, as her "sins are too big and deep and I don't deserve a sweet child like you. You're innocent, but you had to grow up without a mother.But, that's also part of the punishment I must take. Listen carefully. Everyone makes mistakes. But, if you sin, you have to make atonement for it. Atonement, understand? Atonement. That's right. You have to make atonement. Big atonement for big sins, small atonement for small sins." Jenny asks if she's going to kill Mr. Baek, and wen she says yes, she asks why. Geum-ja says "Because, he made a sinner out of me." Jenny asks what she's done and she answers "This man kidnapped and killed a little boy, and, I helped him." Jenny offers to "say sorry to his mother." which makes Geum-ja both laugh and cry. Jenny asks "You were happy with me, right?" and she says "Too happy, for a sinner." Geum-ja then says "I'm sorry." in English, three times and even adds another.
She puts the gun up to Mr. Baek's head, but hears his phone ring and finds a key chain attached to it, with little toys hanging from it. She holds it in front of him and removes his gag. He asks "What's with the eye shadow?" prompting her to pull him backwards to the floor with his own tie. She starts kicking him. She gags him again, and then shoots him in each foot. She calls the detective, who is out with a team, who have found some children's bodies in the woods and are digging them up. She meets with him and shows him the key chain, including the missing marble. She tells him "If you'd found the real killer back then, these children wouldn't have died. Right? You know how this feels. There were four." While Geum-ja is digging through Mr. Baek's place, Mr. Chang calls her and she tells him she can't come to work. He says there are two people looking for her who won't say who they are. We see that it's the Australian stepparents, who both smile, but can't speak anything but English. She finds video of the murdered children and shows the detective, who has to throw up. We see the Australians with Jenny, who is watching video of her cat playing.
Geum-ja calls all of the parents of the murdered children to the classroom along with the detective and shows them the video with Mr. Baek in it clearly. Of course, there are extreme reactions, from screaming to throwing things, and some don't appear to register anything at all. She acknowledges each child writing their names and the dates on the chalkboard. Grief stricken, they break down uncontrollably. Once calm, she tells them "He was a teacher at English schools in affluent neighborhoods. He'd pick his victim, kidnap and kill them, then move on to another school. He'd never pick a child from one of his own classes, which is why he was never under suspicion. Children annoyed him, so he would tape them right after kidnapping them and killed them straightaway. The voices you heard on the line while negotiating the ransom were taped off the videos after the kids were already dead. Now, you have two options. If you want lawful punishment we will hand him over to Chief Choi here. But, if you want a speedier, more personalized death for him, you can have it right here and now.
One of the parents asks "Does he have a child of his own?" Geum-ja says he's supposed to be sterile. Another parent asked what he needed the money for. She explains that he just put it in the bank and it will be returned. A mother agrees "With no kid, what did he need all that money for?" Geum-ja says "He was going to buy a yacht."
They all discuss the options before them. One woman suggesting that turning him in would just lead to long trials. Another suggests that they let Geum-ja do it, since she's already been to jail. Another counters that that is too cowardly as they were their own children. One of them stresses that no one should be forced to cross a line they don't choose to. They start to take a vote, and the concern is raised that someone who votes against their own justice could tell the police. Geum-ja settles it by implying that if anyone informs she will come after them. Won Mo's mother suggests that they all do it together, reminding her husband that he couldn't touch Geum-ja's severed finger. They agree that they "visit" Mr. Baek in groups as they choose. We see then that Mr. Baek has been able to hear the whole conversation via speaker, from the room where he's tied and gagged. They pick numbers on slips of paper to decide who goes in first. They're all given plastic coats and various weapons are available. The detective gives them some tips on proper handling of a knife, to avoid them getting hurt. Won Mo's mother goes first with Geum-ja accompanying her. She asks him Why. He answers "Ma'am there's no such thing as a perfect person." She leaves the room dazed with a bloody knife in her hand. Four of them go in together the next visit. One of the men says "This isn't going to bring our son back. Is it honey?" No one answers, as they all rush to attack him and Geum-ja watches.
One of the women in the waiting room, one of the boy's sister, mentions to another's grandmother that the parents all look well off. She says that they could barely afford to keep her brother in his school, and lost their house and everything they had to come up with the ransom. The grandmother listens and answers "My daughter in law killed herself and my son left the country. We all have our own stories to tell." Her father rushes up with an ax to take his turn. She reminds him that the grandmother still has a turn. He collapses on the way out the door, covered in blood and they help him to the other room. The grandmother gets her turn and doesn't bother with the plastic. She looks at him and walks out. We next see the detective pulling scissors with a name tag on them out of Mr. Baek's neck.
They work together to drain the blood from the plastic sheet beneath Mr. Baek, and dispose of the evidence. The detective takes a group picture of them all and they bury everytihng including the body in the woods together. Geum-ja asks them to give her a moment before filling in the hole. SHe shoots him with her custom pistol, then drops it in with him and they resume filling.
We see everyone together later, sharing a cake at the bakery. They sing happy birthday and blow out candles. The sister of one of the boys whispers to Geum-ja asking if she'll wire the money to their account, giving her the account number, prompting the others to give their own. Everything turns silent and one of the parents says "In France, when there's a break in the conversation like this, they say an angel is passing, causing them all to look up.Guen-shik comes into the bakery and they realize it's snowing and rush out. Geum-ja gets a cigarette from her purse and sees Won Mo's marble roll across the floor. She then sees Won-mo in the corner as if he'd rolled it. He's smoking a cigarette although he's only a little boy. She starts to apologize, but he puts a gag in her mouth, as he ages to how old he would've been and stands up leaving her kneeling in front of him. He looks down at her and walks away.
We see Jenny in bed with her stepparents, woken up by smoke, although they still sleep. Geum-ja leaves the bakery and Geun-shik sings after her, the lyrics in the song daring her to look back. He asks if she's really sending Jenny back, she doesn't look back or answer. We see Jenny walking also through the snow barefoot. The narrator says "Geum-ja made a great mistake in her youth, and used other people to achieve
her own goals. But she still didn't find the redemption she so desired." We see her start running with Geun-shik following a little behind. We see that she's run into Jenny and kneels, giving her a hug. THe narrator picks up "In spite of this, no. because of this, I liked Geum-ja." Geum-ja stands offering Jenny a cake. She says "Be white. Live white. Like this." Jenny sticks her finger in the cake and licks it off. She then sticks her finger in it again, but offers it to Geum-ja. "You too." she says, although she licks it off her finger herself when Geum-ja doesn't act. Jenny looks at the snow coming down and says "More white." opening her mouth to catch a snowflake. Geun-shik does the same thing. Geum-ja looks up and smiles, shaking as if she just realized something. She then strikes her head into the cake. Jenny hugs her from behind and the narrator says "Farewell Geum-ja" and we watch the snow fall on the three of them.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
(for a full summary of the film, scroll down to "What Happens?" below. )
The characters in "The Grifters" are career criminals, but not the type seen in your standard mob/gang movie. It would seem that being a grifter is a career only for the fiercely independent and mentally agile and with a large streak of a gambler's compulsion. While characters in mob movies may end up betraying their bosses, the three grifters presented here, would be destined to do so from the moment they pretended to have a boss. As Roy's mentor, Mintz says "Grifters got an irresistible urge to beat a guy who's wise. There's nothing to whipping a fool. Hell, fools are made to be whipped. But, to take another pro, even your partner, who knows you, and has his eye on you, that's a score, no matter what happens." This is an odd and brutal game where only the winner really knows the score and whatever triumph he/she might feel belong to him or her alone, as by nature they'd have no one to share it with. These characters don't really have relationships as much as prepared situations with someone about to be taken. Even their most personal relationships boil down to long cons. This is a completely demanding lifestyle, and the only moment the con is not going is when each character is alone, and even then they're likely plotting the details. As a con man's career relies on being sincere and likeable, it's easy to get drawn in to their charm and unconventional wit. The con doesn't stop when you learn they're con men, it's similar to Cole telling a mark that the transaction is illegal, and watches the man hook himself. The danger is part of the allure, and allows him to be comfortable with something that's too good to be true. For a moment, the mark knows how the grifter thinks of himself, a little smarter than the rest of the world.
Stephen Frears provides a unique film experience, using Elmer Bernstein's score as a powerful tool giving a looming sense of danger as while as dark celebration at times conjuring the sense of a menacing carnival, which is certainly appropriate as the traditional grifter is often associated with travelling carnies, a natural source of new marks, a subculture withing a subculture of permanent transience. Everything in the movie looks sharp and authentic so much so that details like Lilly's blonde hair stand out. Until the end, even the violence looks good. I would think it's no accident that Roy's beating gives only internal injuries as if even dying, there can't be an obvious mess. The film recalls the past, but brought up to date and not looking better for the shift.
Roy is our most average character and the center of the story as it's he that ties Myra and Lilly together. It's his injury that causes Lilly to screw up, a concern you would imagine she's had for a long time. Lilly is right about Roy in that he "doesn't have the stomach" to be a grifter. While he's charming and has a few skills, he doesn't have the edge that Myra and Lilly do. He lacks a mean streak and you get the sense that he's simply trying to find an amusing way to make a living. By comparison to the women, it would seem that Roy is dabbling in a game that requires total devotion. He's content to make a few bucks here and there not taking anyone for enough to make them care, until he finds the wrong bartender and realizes that as much as a grifter likes to take someone, there are those that despise the takers, no matter the amount. That's the heart of the lifestyle, and Roy doesn't get it. A lot of the appeal to him is that it allows him to be a "self made man." We see that he's insistent to Lilly that "I pay my debts." He mentions to Myra that he left home with only things he himself had paid for. THis is not a good attitude for a grifter who would more naturally be proud that he left home having stolen all of Lilly's things. His misplaced work ethic doesn't do him any favors. He can't get past issues with Lilly, having acted as if he were her brother when he was a child, he sees her more as a disloyal peer than a mother, and as everyone but he himself can see he has a vulnerability around his Oedipus complex. Unfortunately for him, that's not even sacred to a real grifter, Myra or Lilly. He wants to have a relationship with Lilly, but he can't understand what she is or what she's capable of to survive as she herself points out. He's quick to grab the opportunity to play Lilly's moral authority, having perhaps hoped for the chance his whole life, but in the end, he's a twenty five year old kid without enough cynicism to really play the game. Roy unlike Myra and Lilly is content to be just so comfortable, and so is surprised at their insatiable grasping for more. John Cusack is perfect for the role and pulls off a likeable rogue, perpetually smirking at a private joke. The role fits in well with his other screen roles. He's not unlike Lloyd Dobler in "Say ANything" although this time he's in way over his head.
Myra is another matter. SHe's eternally calculating, and the consummate grifter. Her every waking moment is a con, from paying her rent to having a boyfriend. Given what we see of her, we can assume that before she knows that Roy is a con man, she's already working him for something. Her delight at seeing Roy con the sailor's is beautiful, as if she's finally found the perfect way to "take" him. Myra is a specialist, using her body as her tool. Her easy exhibitionism tells her story. She doesn't even bother with seduction or lingerie, just presenting her whole body as if she's impossible to turn away. It's possible that she really wants to partner up with Roy, as the long con she describes would require a male partner, yet when she tells Roy he needs to come up with $20,000.00 for his end, it seems more likely that Roy is just a short con on the way to the long one. We can believe that she misses the long con, but how she reenters the lifestyle is not likely something she shares with Roy but even if they had become partners, Roy's fears about being conned himself are well justified, as Mintz pointed out, "But, to take another pro, even your partner, who knows you, and has his eye on you, that's a score, no matter what happens." She has no knowledge of Mintz's advice to Roy, and assumes that Lilly is responsible for thwarting her. This shows us the hard nature of a "successful" grifter, as she casually puts Lilly's life in danger, both to punish her, and hoping to take her money. It's not her fault that she underestimates Lilly, who is capable of anything at all. Annette Benning is extraordinry in a unique role. Her Myra is calculating deranged and alluring and convincing as a cold blooded schemer who's practiced at seeming warm.
Lilly is the real star of the movie and Anjelica Huston is brilliant presenting a natural predator, who doesn't even realize her nature. She's like a shark, in that she doesn't ponder her actions but has to keep moving or drown. She has been a grifter her whole life, and working for Bobo has found a golden opportunity with access to easy money, and regular employment while she continues to steal money. Bobo even expects her to steal as she shows when she recites his speech back to him "If he's not stealing a little, he's stealing a lot." Of course the difference between a little and a lot is ambiguous, especially over time. Much relies on the appearance of order, and when Bobo is tipped off, he has no choice to take action even though her actions could well have been well within what was expected of her. That's the hazard of having a "boss." although the premise of working for someone would seem to be part of her grift. The fact that Lilly would work her grift on someone as dangerous as Bobo shows her dedication to the lifestyle. Her quick turnaround of Myra's murder attempt shows that she's the ultimate opportunist, quick witted enough to try and salvage any situation. Her strong dislike for Myra, aside from objections "anyone would have." concerning her son, are likely based on an instant recognition. They recognize each other as full time and dedicated operators, and instinctual competition.
She is not emotionless and we see that she does have feelings for her son Roy, as this causes her to uncharacteristically screw up. From Roy and her accounts, this is not the first time her son has been a liability to her lifestyle. And much like she becomes temporarily lulled by steady employment, she thinks that she can reconcile in some way with Roy. She herself, forgets her own nature until she has no choice but to turn back to it. Once she does, all bets are off. She thinks nothing off attempting to seduce her own son, because there is nothing in the world more important to her than surviving. As She she tells Roy "I'm a survivor. I survive." She warns him that he has no idea what she's capable of, and attempts to take the money through conversation, but she also begins an escalation that can onlty end with her leaving with it, no matter what the outcome for Roy. She likely didn't mean to kill him, but neither does that stop her once in motion. She can mourn her son at her leisure while surviving. SHe will likely end up in the same situation all over again, and she will also likely survive. At what cost, is a consideration she gave up on a long time ago.
Ultimately, "The Grifters" is a mean spirited film about ruthless people being charming for as long as they can. Everyone has something to prove and due to the nature of the grifter, only one of them can really prove it. It's easy to get drawn in to the charm of a man or woman against the world living on his/her wits, at least until we're brought all the way to the downside, which is simply the fact that this leaves you all alone in the world. Lilly gets away and lives, but she hardly gets a happy ending. Roy is a goner as soon as we realize he isn't committed.Caught between Lilly and Myra, anything that has a heart is going to be a casualty. To use Mintz's quote one more time, "But, to take another pro, even your partner, who knows you, and has his eye on you, that's a score, no matter what happens." seems right on the money. Lilly taking Roy is a score, and we see "no matter what happens." vividly illustrated. We might have a tendency to see a score as a happy event, but in their terminology, happy has nothing to do with anything. These people buy and sell confidence. For true grifters like Myra and Lilly, a score is just the marker that tells you you're still alive. Anything but total dedication to it can be fatal as Roy would tell you. Play the game or go straight, there isn't any room for dabblers.
Grifters starts out with a quote from "The Lady is a Tramp" a song by Hart and Rodgers, "I've wined and dined on mulligan stew/and never wished for turkey,/As I hitched and hiked and grifted too/ from Maine to Albuquerque..." before giving the credits over changing views of city skylines.
Monday, March 14, 2011
Reservoir Dogs opens in a restaurant with a group of guys talking. The group is involved a planning heist and other than the heist organizers, Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney) and his son Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn) the men in the group go only by their code names; Mr. Brown (Quentin Tarantino), Mr. White (Harvey Keitel,) Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen,) Mr. Orange (Tim Roth,) Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi,) and Mr. Blue (Eddie Bunker.)
Mr. Brown initiates a conversation about the true meaning of Madonna's "Like a Virgin" insisting that the meaning is entirely physical while Mr. Blonde contends that it's about "meeting a nice sensitive guy." Joe pays for the meal telling the group they can take care of the tip by each throwing in a buck. This starts a debate on the merits of tipping waitresses, as Mr. Pink doesn't believe in tipping just because it's expected. He changes his mind when Joe insists. Joe says "Alright, Ramblers, let's get rambling."
The screen turns to black as we hear a radio program "K-Billy's Sounds of the Seventies" announced by Steven Wright as the credits start and we see the group walking slow motion in black suits and sunglasses. The credits continue over another brief black screen and we hear Mr. Orange and Mr. White talking. Mr. Orange is panicked that he's going to die and Mr. White reassures him. We then see them in a car with Mr. Orange in a white backseat covered in blood. Mr. White holds his hand and continues telling him he isn't going to die.
Mr. White: Are you a doctor?
Mr Orange: No, I'm not.
Mr. White: Ok, so you admit you don't know what you're talking about. So, if you're through giving me your amateur opinion, lie back and listen to the news. I'm taking you back to the rendezvous and Joe's gonna get you a doctor. The doctor's gonna fix you up and you're gonna be ok. Now, say it! You're gonna be Ok.
When Mr. Orange continues screaming Mr.White insists until he repeats it. They arrive at a warehouse and Mr. White lays Orange down on the ground and checks his wound. White tells Orange he can't do anything except wait for Joe. Orange tells White he's scared and asks him to hold him, which White obliges, continuing to reassure him. Orange begs White to take him to a hospital, but White insists that he can't. He tells Orange that while it's very painful, it takes days to die from a gutshot.
Mr. Pink arrives next and finds out about Mr. Orange. He tells them that Mr. Brown got shot by a cop.Pink insists that they got set up, due to the cops arriving on the scene too quickly. White and Pink discuss the set up situation. White recalls the alarm going off, the cops showing up and then Mr. Blonde started shooting everyone. Mr. Pink corrects him, pointing out that the cops didn't arrive when the alarm went off, but when Blonde started shooting. Mr White asks Pink how he got out. Pink says "I shot my way out."
We then take a look at Mr. Pink's escape. He runs down the sidewalk, pushing through pedestrians, with three cops chasing him on foot. Crossing the road, he gets hit by a car, breaking it's windshield. He uses the surprise to pull the woman driving out of her car as the cops catch up. They exchange shots around a corner and Pink takes the car and escapes.
We go back to the warehouse and Pink asks White if he killed anybody.
White: A few cops.
Pink: No real people?
White: Just cops.
Pink asks "Could you believe Mr. Blonde?" White answers "That was the most insane fucking thing I've ever seen. Why the fuck would Joe hire a guy like that?"
Pink: I don't wanna kill anybody. If I got to get out of that door and you're standing in my way, one way or the other you're getting out of my way.
White: That's the way I look at it. The choice between doing ten years and taking out some stupid motherfucker, ain't no choice at all. But I ain't no madman either. They discuss the rest of the crew. Pink reveals that he has the diamonds so they're not worried about anyone taking them. Pink is concerned that whoever set them up could've given the cops the warehouse location. Pink starts trying to eliminate possible rats. asking White about everyone in the crew. Pink suggests Orange could be the rat, but White gets angry saying "Listen, that kid in there is dying from a fucking bullet I saw him take. So don't you be calling him a rat!" Pink answers "Look. I'm right Ok? Somebody's a fucking rat."
We flashback to Mr. White meeting with Joe. The two are clearly old friends, as Joe asks about a girl named Alabama, White's former girlfriend and partner. White explains they're not together anymore and asks about a telegram Joe sent him. Joe explains "Five man job, busting in and busting out of a diamond wholesaler's." White asks Joe if he can unload the diamonds and Joe tells him no problem, asking about a source White had, who White informs him is in prison for twenty years.
White: What's the exposure like?
Joe: Two minutes tops, but it's a tough two minutes. Daylight, during business hours, dealing with a crowd, but you'll have the guys to deal with the crowd.
White: How many employees?
Joe: I'd say around twenty, security, pretty lax.
Back at the warehouse, White checks on Orange, and Pink tells him, he's getting out of there. White insists that he can't leave Orange as he took a bullet for him. White wants to get in touch with Joe, thinking he can get help. Pink reasons that Joe won't be happy to hear from them. They discuss the situation, White revealing that Orange had begged him to bring him to a hospital. White is hesitant to "turn him over to the cops." but Pink reasons they should do it, since he asked, and doesn't know anything about them.
White: But he knows all about me.
Pink: What? Wait, you didn't tell him your name, did you?
White: First name, and where I was from.
White: I told him where I was from a few days ago. It was just a natural conversation.
Pink: What was telling him your name when you weren't supposed to?
White: He asked! We had just gotten away from the cops. He just got shot. It was my fault he got shot. He's a fucking bloody mess. He's screaming. I swear to God, I thought he was gonna die right then and there.I'm trying to comfort him, telling him, not to worry, everything's gonna be ok, I'm gonna take care of him. And he asks me what my name was. I mean, the man was dying in my arms. What the fuck was I supposed to do? Tell him, I'm sorry, I can't give out that fucking information? It's against the rules? I don't trust you enough? Maybe I shoulda, but I couldn't.
Pink: I'm sure it was a very beautiful scene.
White: Don't fucking patronize me!
Pink: Do they have a sheet on you where you're from?
Pink: Well, that's that then.
Pink insists that since Orange knows so much about White they can't bring him to a hospital. White tells him to back off, saying if they don't, Orange will die. Pink says "I feel bad about that. But, some folks are lucky and some ain't." White punches Pink in the face, knocking him to the ground, and the two of them pull guns on each other. Pink insists that he's acting professional and it isn't his fault.
We then see that they're being watched by Mr. Blonde who's leaning on a wall close by. He says "You kids shouldn't play so rough. Somebody's gonna start cryin'" Pink gets up off the floor and asks Blonde what happened. He asks if he knows what happened to Blue. Blonde doesn't answer, just takes off his sunglasses and looks at White and Pink. White gets mad, cutting off Mr. Pink.
White: Enough! You better start talking, asshole! 'Cause we got shit we need to talk about. We're already freaked out. We need you acting freaky like we need a fucking bag on our hip.
Blonde: Okay. Let's talk.
White and Pink explain they think there's a rat. They tell Blonde they don't think the warehouse is safe anymore and suggest he leaves with them.
Blonde: Nobody's going anywhere.
White: Piss on this, fucking turd. We're out of here.
Blonde: Don't take another step Mr. White.
White: [pointing his gun at and approaching Blonde] Fuck you, maniac! It's your fucking fault we're in this trouble.
Blonde: What's this guy's problem?
White: What's my problem? Yeah I got a fucking problem.I got a big fucking problem! When any trigger happy madman almost gets me shot!
Blonde: What the fuck you talkin' about?
White: That fucking shooting spree! In the store, remember?
Blonde: Fuck em. They set off the alarm. They deserved what they got.
White: You almost killed me! Asshole! If I'd known what kind of a guy you were, I never would have agreed to work with you.
Blonde: Are you gonna bark all day, little doggie? Or are you gonna bite?
White: What was that? I'm sorry. I didn't catch it. Could you repeat it?
Blonde: Are you gonna bark all day, little doggie? Or are you gonna bite?
White approaches Blonde but Pink runs in between them and tries to defuse things. Pink reasons that Blonde is the only guy they can trust as he's "too homicidal to be working with the cops" Pink tells them they need to work together to figure out who the bad guy is. Blonde starts laughing and says "Wow. That was really exciting" Looking at White he says. "Bet you're a big Lee Marvin fan aren't you?" White laughs, and Blonde says "Me too. I love that guy. My heart's beating so fast I 'm about to have a heart attack." He tells them he has something outside to show them, and reveals he has a cop tied up in his trunk. They reason that the cop may be able to tell them something about the set up. Blonde also tells them that he talked to Nice Guy Eddie, who said he's on his way to the warehouse.
We then cut to 'Mr. Blonde" in the past. We see Joe in his office talking on the phone. He's told that Vic Vega (Mr. Blonde) is outside and Joe asks to send him on. Joe says "Welcome home Vic! How does freedom feel?" Blonde tells him "It's a change. Joe offers him a drink and tells him to get comfortable. Blonde says his parole officer won't let him leave the halfway house. Blonde thanks Joe for sending him packages in prison. He asks about Blonde's plans, when Nice Guy Eddie arrives. Eddie hugs Blonde and apologizes for not picking him up himself explaining that he's had his head up his ass. Blonde says "It's funny you should say that because that's what me and your Daddy were just talking about."
Eddie: That i should've picked you up?
Blonde: No, that you got your head up your ass. I walk in the door and he's like, "Vic,Vic, I'm so glad somebody's finally her that knows what's going on. My son Eddie's a fuck-up. He's ruining the business. I mean I love the guy, but you know he's flushin' everything down the toilet. I mean, that's what you said, right Joe? I mean, tell him yourself.
Joe: Well, I hate for you to hear it like this, but Vic come in, asked me how business was, and you don't lie to a man who's done time for you.
Eddie: That's very true.
Eddie and Blonde start wrestling before Joe breaks it up, saying "You guys wanna crawl around on the floor, do it in Eddies's office not mine." The two keep giving each other a hard time, until Joe gets serious and tells Eddie about Blonde's parole problem. Eddie suggest he come work for them, but Blonde explains he has to keep the parole officer happy before he can work for them again. Eddie suggests that they get him a job as a dock worker. Blonde doesn't want to work, but Eddie tells him he doesn't have to work, but according to the records he'll have a job. Blonde thanks them and tells them he'd like to do some "real work." Joe tells him "Well, it's hard to say. It's a strange time now." He suggests he go along with the dock worker cover for the moment and they'll let him know when something comes up. Eddie has an idea though, to use Blonde on a job, that they wouldn't normally put him on, since he's always been good luck to them. Joe asks "How would you feel about pulling a job with five other guys?" Blonde says "I'd feel great about it."
We then find Eddie driving in the present trying to call his father, explaining to Joe's assistant that Blonde told him things turned ugly and he took a cop hostage to get away. At the warehouse, Pink, White and Blonde are beating the cop. Blonde finds some duct tape which they use to tape the cop to a chair. White and Pink hit him and White tells the cop he's going to talk.
Eddie shows up and Pink tells him about the set up. Eddie is mad and tells them there was no set up and that it's no wonder the cops showed up with all the shooting. Eddie assumes that Orange is dead but White tells him he isn't yet, but will be if they don't get a doctor. Blonde asks where Joe is and Eddie says he's coming down there and he's pissed. They tell Eddie that brown is dead, but no one knows what happened to Blue. Blonde says "Either he's alive or he's dead, or the cops got him, or they don't." Eddie asks why they're beating on the cop. Pink explains they want to know who set them up. Eddie says "If you fucking beat this prick long enough, he'll tell you he started the goddamned Chicago fire. Now that don't necessarily make it fucking so!" Pink tells Eddie he has the diamonds. Eddie suggests that they go get them as well as getting the cars out of the lot, leaving Blonde at the warehouse. White tells him they can't leave Blonde with Orange and the cop, "because he's a fucking psycho." Blonde claims White has been threatening him since he cam to the warehouse, but Pink and White tell Eddie that the job went bad because Blonde started shooting everyone.Blonde explains "If they hadn't done what I told them not to do, they'd still be alive." Whit starts clapping (Blonde joins in) and says "My fucking hero!" Eddie reasons "What does it matter who stays with the cop? We're not letting him go after he's seen everybody." They stick with Eddie's plan and leave Blonde to watch the cop and Orange.
As soon as they leave, Blonde takes off his jacket and approaches the cop, (Kirk Baltz) who insists he doesn't know about any set up no matter how much he gets tortured. Blonde gets upset with the cop when he reminds Blonde that his boss said there was no set up, insisting that he doesn't have a "boss". Blonde then says "Listen kid, I'm not gonna bullshit you, all right? I don't give a good fuck what you know, or don't know, but I'm gonna torture you anyway, regardless. Not to get information. It's amusing, to me, to torture a cop. You can say anything you want cause I've heard it all before. All you can do is pray for a quick death, which you ain't gonna get" Blonde pulls out a straight razor and turns on the radio, which plays Steeler's Wheel's "Stuck in the Middle With you." He starts dancing to the song, while making his way over to the cop, slashing his face and then cutting off his ear and asking "Was that as good for you as it was for me?" He holds the severed ear in his hand and pretends to talk into it, asking the cop if he can hear it. Blonde runs out to his car and gets a gas can, dancing his way to the cop again before dousing him with gas as he struggles. Blonde pulls the tape from the cop's mouth and the cop begs him to stop, telling him he has a little kid and he doesn't know anything and won't say anything. Blonde just says "You all through?" preparing to light the gas.
We then see Blonde get shot many times and realize Orange is awake and still has his gun. He attempts to get up but can't. Orange asks the cop his name and he answers "Marvin Nash." Orange tells Marvin that he's a cop, but Marvin says he already knows and he also knows his name is "Freddy something." Orange says "Newandyke, Freddy Newandyke." He tells Orange that they were introduced months ago, but Orange doesn't remember. Marvin asks "How do I look?" Orange says "I don't know what to tell you Marvin." Marvin gets upset about being disfigured but Orange asks him to hold on, as there are cops only a block away. Marvin complains again about the disfigurement and Orange yells 'Fuck you! Fuck You! I'm fucking dying here!" He tells Marvin they aren't making a move until Joe shows up and he should be on the way. So "We're just gonna sit here and bleed until Joe Cabot sticks his fucking head through that door."
We then move to the past and see "Mr. Orange." in civilian clothes, announcing to his police contact, Holdaway (Randy Brooks) that he has an in to one of Joe Cabot's jobs. Holdaway is excited to hear it. He tells Holdaway that Nice Guy Eddie set up a meeting with Joe. Eddie picked him up and he met with Joe and Mr. White. As Mr. White didn't look familiar Orange deduced he was from out of town, and finding out White was a Brewer's fan he further knew he was from Wisconsin. Holdaway tells him to look through the Milwaukee files under armed robbery until he puts a name to White's face. Holdaway asks about a referral from"Long Beach Mike." and whether it helped him get on the inside. "Perfecto." Orange says. Referring to Long Beach Mike, he tells Holdaway, "Do right by him, he's a good guy. I wouldn't be inside if it wasn't for him." Holdaway senses trouble and tells Orange "No. No. Long Beach Mike is not your fucking amigo man. Long Beach Mike is a fucking scumbag. He's selling out his amigos. That's what kind of a nice guy he fucking is, alright?" Holdaway asks if he used "the commode story." and we see see Orange and Holdaway practicing the delivery of "an amusing anecdote about a drug deal." Holdaway has given Orange a script, and instructed him to make it his own and remember every detail in the commode where the story is to have taken place. We see Orange practicing at home alone later trying to make it believable. He practices in front of Holdaway again and finally we see him telling Joe, Eddie, and Mr. White the story. He handles their interruptions to ask for details adeptly. The story turns out to be about him using an airport restroom using a urinal with pot on him and running into a group of sheriff's dept. guys who have a drug dog that barks at him, without losing his cool. The story impresses Joe. Holdaway asks about Joe and Orange tells him he's a cool and funny guy."
We see White and Eddie picking him up. He tells himself before leaving "They don't know. They don't know shit. You're not gonna get hurt. You're fucking Beretta. They believed every fucking word, because you're super cool." When Orange gets in the car we see that they have police tailing them. Mr. Pink is also in the car, talking about the differences between white and black women, claiming that black women won't put up with things that white women will. Eddie agrees and tells a story about a black cocktail waitress named E-Lois, whose husband "did things to her" until one night "he fell asleep. She sneaks up on him and put some Wacko glue on his dick, glues his dick to his belly." Orange gets into the conversation by pointing out some facts about Pam Grier. The four of them are all laughing and having a good time until they arrive at their meeting with Joe, who says
"So, you guys like to tell jokes and giggle and kid around, huh? Gigglin' like a bunch of young broads sittin' in a schoolyard. Well, let me tell a joke. Five guys, sittin' in a bullpen, in San Quentin, wondering how the fuck they got there. What'd we do wrong, what should we've done, what didn't we do? it's your fault, my fault, his fault, all that bullshit. Finally, someone comes up with the idea; Wait a minute, while we were planning this caper, all we did was sit around tellin' fuckin' jokes! Got the message? Boys, I don't mean to holler at ya. When this caper's over - and I'm sure it's gonna be a successful one, hell, we'll get down to the Hawaiian Islands, hell, I'll roll and laugh with all of ya. You'll find me a different character down there. Right now, it's a matter of business."
He reinforces the importance of using aliases and any personal information. He then assigns them all their color names. Mr. Pink has a problem with his and complains, but Joe tells him that's it. Mr. Pink asks why they can't their own colors and Joe says "Tried it once, it doesn't work. You get four guys all fighting over who's gonna be Mr. Black. They don't know each other so nobody wants to back down. " He tells Pink to be thankful he's not Mr. Yellow.
Orange goes over all the details of the plan with Mr. White in a car before the job. We then flash to them in the car after the job. We see Mr. Brown drive his car into another car with blood in his eyes while White and Orange get out. A cruiser pulls up to them and White shoots the two cops in it dead while Orange watches and Brown dies of his wound. They walk away together, and try to steal a car at gunpoint not realizing the driver has a gun. She shoots Orange, who's on the driver's side. Orange then shoots her dead and we see him in the back like he was at the beginning with White reassuring him.
We move back to the warehouse, with Marvin tied up, Orange lying in the same place and Blonde, dead across the room. Eddie gets back with White and Pink and wants to know what happened. Orange explains that Blonde, slashed the cops face, cut off his ear and was about to burn him alive. Eddie doesn't seem pleased and asks "This cop?" before shooting the Marvin dead. Eddie says "He went crazy? Worse or better?" Orange then insists that Blonde was "pulling a burn" and was planning to kill him as well and was going to kill the rest of them when they returned and leave with the diamonds for himself. White exclaims "That sick piece of shit." Eddie says "It doesn't make sense." White says "It makes perfect sense. You didn't see how he acted during the job."
Eddie says "You're saying that Mr. Blonde was gonna kill you and then when we got back, he was gonna kill us, take the satchel of diamonds, and scram? I'm right about that, right? That's correct. That's your story?"
Orange says "I swear on my mother's eternal soul that's what happened." Eddie says 'The man you just killed just got released from prison. He got caught in a company warehouse, full of hot items. He could've fuckin' walked. All he had to do was say my Dad's name, but he didn't. He kept his fucking mouth shut. He did his time and he did it like a man. He did four years for us. So, Mr. Orange, you're telling me that this very good friend of mine, who did four years for my father, and in four years never made a deal, no matter what they dangled in front of him...You're telling me that now that this man is free, and we're making good on our commitment to him, he's just gonna decide, out of the fucking blue, to rip us off! Why don't you tell me what really happened.
Joe enters the room, and says "What the hell for? It'd just be more bullshit. This man set us up." Eddie apologizes for not knowing what happened. and Joe says "That's alright, I do."
White then interrupts and says "What the fuck are you talking about?"
Joe: That lump of shit's working with the LAPD.
Orange [struggling to speak] I don't have the slightest fucking idea what you're talking about.
White: Joe, I don't know what you think you know, but you're wrong.
Joe: Like hell I am.
White: Joe, trust me on this. You made a mistake. He's a good kid. I understand you're hot. You're super fucking pissed. We're all real emotional, but you're barking up the wrong tree. I know this man. He wouldn't do that.
Joe: You don't know jack shit. I do. The cocksucker tipped off the cops and had Mr. Brown and Mr. Blue killed.
Pink: Mr. Blue is dead?
Joe: Dead as Dillinger.
White: How do you know all this?
Joe: He was the only one I wasn't 100% on. I should have my head examined, I should have my head examined, going ahead when I wasn't 100%.
White: That's your proof?
Joe: You don't need proof when you have instinct. I ignored it before, but no more.
Joe pulls his gun and points it at Mr. Orange. White then pulls his gun and aims it at Joe. Eddie then aims his gun at White. Pink tries to tell them to act professional. Eddie also urges them to put down the guns and settle things with conversation. White says "Joe, you kill that man, you die next." Joe fires, setting the others off. While they're lying on the ground Pink takes off leaving the warehouse. Joe and Eddie appear dead but White is alive. He crawls over to Orange, cradling his head. He says "Looks like we're about to do a little time." We hear cops outside. Orange says "Larry, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." White puts his gun up to Orange's head, wailing in anguish and the cops burst in telling him to drop the gun. He forces himself to shoot Orange before dying.
What About It?
Reservoir Dogs is a crime movie not terribly concerned with the crime itself as much as how people fall apart afterwards. Like most heist movies, you know things will go wrong the question is really how they'll go wrong and what exactly happens to each of the characters, each of whom has his own motivation and fuse. It's a brilliantly entertaining movie, and it's strength largely lies with the acting and the smart original dialogue. The character's are well enough established that they could all be identified simply by how they say speak.
Mr. Blonde, the psycopath is entertainingly twisted. He doesn't appear to be willing to back down from anything. He doesn't hesitate to kill people as punishment for pulling an alarm, even though he just got out after four years in prison. He enjoys making light of Mr.White, the senior man in the heist crew, calling out his tough guy talk while showing no concern whatsoever that White will back it up. He freely admits to Marvin the policeman that he doesn't care about information, but is going to torture him just because he finds it amusing. Blonde obviously does enjoy torture, and pain is not enough but he also has to disfigure, and with everything he does, inspires him to top himself. Slashing the cops face leads to cutting off his ear. As if to ensure humiliation he has to talk into it making a joke to the man. The pain is not enough. He's compelled to overdo it so much as to nearly make it absurd. Rather than shoot the man after disfiguring him, he remembers a gas can in his car and that's not even enough, as he shows by pulling the tape from his mouth to hear him beg and scream. He treats torture as a performance art even dancing rather than just walking over to his victim, as if he wants him to be strangely entertained by his own pain.Yet, despite his sadistic nature, he is also unquestionably loyal and observant of formalities, at least when it comes to Joe and Eddie. Michael Madsen delivers perfectly, playing his part perfectly cool. The contradictions of the character seem perfectly natural in the performance, and we understand we he worries Mr. White and Pink, as well as why Eddie, can't even imagine he'd betray them. His dancing and twisted deadpan have no doubt altered the world's appreciation of "Caught in the Middle With You" forever.
Harvey Keitel's Mr. White is the centerpiece of the group. He's practical and professional, but not afraid to do what he has to do as he illustrates when he tells Orange how to handle a resistant teller. He has no problem smashing someone's nose with a gun butt or slicing off a finger, but he views these things as tools of the trade, not having any interest in inflicting pain for it's own sake. White would rather hae things go smoothly than have to hurt anyone. Violence is simply a practicality, he's a businessman that wants to make money. He does have a strict moral code however, as we see when he's willing to shoot Joe, his old friend rather than allow him to kill a man he feels indebted to. He forms a real attachment to Mr. Orange, based on little more than his feeling and the fact that Orange took a bullet he thought should have been his. White does want to be respected for his experience and this puts him inevitably at odds with Mr. Blonde, whose fearlessness makes him almost effortlessly the alpha dog. White feels compelled to assert his authority, and is only able to back down due to Mr. Pink intervening. He takes the chance to back off, realizing that asserting authority would require one of them ending up dead. His defining characteristic is that he does have a sense of honor and appropriateness. Keitel is terrific as usual, his performance giving the ensemble a solid center and a stabilizing presence.
Steve Buscemi's Mr. Pink, unlike White and Blonde, has no interest at all in macho posturing. He sees himself as a professional only looking to get paid witout getting arrested. He's not afraid to pull a gun or even shoot a cop, but would much rather not be seen at all. He thinks of himself as the smartest guy in the room, and may well be right as he is the only one who has the slightest chance at getting away. He doesn't threaten anyone and no one sees him as a threat. He's the most nuerotic of the group and he would likely be considered almost paranoid if he weren't a criminal with many reasons that make his worries valid. His decision to stash the diamonds before going to the warehouse, shows his attention to detail. And, if he hadn't done that, it could've been a very different movie as the three active me who don't trust each other stuck in a warhouse with all the diamonds would've certainly increased the tension and the odds that one or two of them would have died sooner. Buscemi is perfectly cast here, and he portrays Pink's nervous restlessness very well.
It's Tim Roth however that's easiest to invest in. Unlike all of the others, he's not a criminal at all, he's only acting like one. To him, these are the bad guys and he wants things to fall apart. But at the same time, he's only human. Holdaway's concern for him acting as if an informant is his friend proves valid, as it becomes clear that he has a lot of respect for Mr.White. In the short time they spend together, he comes to think of Mr. White as a friend and certainly has a great deal of respect for the man, helped no doubt by White not abandoning him and even going up against everyone, including his old friend Joe, rather than let him be shot. Their friendship is a mutual debt of sorts, developing due mostly to circumstance. Orange is closer to a criminal than he realizes and when he shoots the woman who shot him, he crosses the moral line, although he doesn't ever forget his job, although staying alive becomes increasingly important after he's shot. Orange has to shoulder all their concerns while concealing his own hidden agenda, all while the clock is ticking due to his gutshot. He remains enough of a cop, that he can't watch another cop get burned to death, although killing Mr. Blonde puts him in a precarious position. Although his gesture does nothing but give the cop a less painful death, the impulse shows he hasn't completely forgotten himself. But at the end the labels don't matter so much. Revealing he's a cop to Mr. White, reveals that he doesn't view Mr. White as simply a criminal, but he respects him (and owes him) as a man. He has to know that White will kill him, but he respects him enough to put that decision in his hands. The fact that much of this part was acted lying in a pool of blood on the floor makes it that much more remarkable. Roth goes all out, shrieking from his gutshot, to remaining composed attempting to reasure Marvin. In his own chapter we see the difficult line he's walking and he convinces us as well as Joe's crew.
The other performances are all dead on as well, Chris Penn is wonderful as Nice Guy Eddie, playing both a convincing son and number two man to Joe's operation. Lawrence Tierney's Joe Cabot is the perfect no nonsense drill instructor and man with a plan. Kirk Baltz as tortured cop Marvin Nash is also as good as someone could be while tied up to a chair, being tortured and waiting. There's not a weak performance anywhere in the film.
This was Quentin Tarantino's first feature, and a hugely influential modern film, which has influenced many films since. Whether you like him or not, there's no denying that he's a powerful director with his own sense of style, which has been imitated in varying degrees wholesale. Reservoir Dogs certainly revived interest in the possibilities of a crime movie, and once Pulp Fiction came out, Tarantino's stamp changed the crime movie landscape. His snappy, sharp and original dialogue has certainly been recognized as effective, so much that you can't do a low budget crime movie without it anymore. (Well you can, but you wouldn't know it based on what followed it.) He's clearly well versed in action/heist movie conventions as well as storytelling in general and the language of music videos, using all of his knowledge to great effect.
In fairness, crime movies, at least the best ones, have always valued great sharp dialogue and smart characters, but Tarantino adds his own blend of pop culture and obscenity, making it more engaging and almost forcing you to listen, perhaps asking youself "Did he just say that Like a Virgin is about a guy with a big dick?" If that bothers you, Tarantino might not be your best director, but whether you find his dialogue lewd or not, it isn't unrealistic, other than it's concentration, and it is original enough to make you listen to the story. Lewdness concerns aside, even the everyday dialogue is entertaining, sustaining a rapid fire pace, while not seeming rushed. If dialogue can be action packed, then Tarantino has that down. He's also very conscious of the atmosphere that music adds, choosing songs carefully to fit the scenes they're used for, always adding to the whole. The use of "Stuck in the Middle with You" for the torture scene was great not only in that it fit so well, but because it paused when Blonde went outside, resuming again when he entered the warehouse, implying that outside, there's a whole world unaware of the atrocity occuring right there. In Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino shows that he knows how to get your attention and keep it. You may not even realize that most of the film was just a few guys in a warehouse, guys in a diner, and once in a while guys trying to find a car. You don't notice because it always feels like something's happening even if it's only two guys talking knowing that it's going to fall apart any minute.
Reservoir Dogs is certainly a heist movie, although we never see the heist. And like most heist movies, it's largely about the difficulty of getting independent natured people to work together with greed as a motivator. Of course the difficult becomes impossible, when one of the guys is a cop, and another is a psychopath, but such complications are not unusual in these films. You should know from the beginning that it's not going to work out, the only question, again, is how badly it's not going to work.
The central human story is that of the friendship of Mr White and Mr. Orange. While it's not a happy ending, it is an affirmation that no matter your occupation, you can sometimes be surprised to find honor and decency in another human being. It just might affect you enough that you see the debt as more important than your own life. In this case, it is, but Mr. White doesn't take that lightly either. He doesn't want to kill Mr. Orange, but he must, because he has his code, which was the only thing that made him respectable to begin with. Like any great tragedy, these characters are doomed by the only things that made them worth saving. There's no happily ever after, but at least a couple of them manage to go out with dignity.