Whatever happened to the Tarantino-esque crime film?

JULY 8 ― The 90s was a great time for American indie film-making, when people actually knew the names and waited for new films from the likes of Steven Soderbergh, Spike Lee, Jim Jarmusch, Kevin Smith, Hal Hartley, Todd Solondz, Todd Haynes, Gregg Araki, Robert Rodriguez and of course, Quentin Tarantino.

Despite the breadth of film-making talent around throughout those years, one name towers above all of them, Tarantino, who was more or less responsible for spawning thousands of imitators from all across the globe.

The imitations came so thick and fast that we all knew what a Tarantino-esque film would feel and sound like. It will surely be some sort of crime film, with a colourful cast of “lowlife” characters with pretty impressive verbal skills and a vast knowledge of pop culture, and the soundtrack will be populated with pop songs, mostly used to ironic effect.

Sometimes a few of these wannabe films do stand out and pick up their own cult fans, like The Boondock Saints or the early films of Guy Ritchie, but most of them simply ended up in DVD and VHS bargain bins everywhere, as directors and producers finally realise that it takes more than just following a formula or template to get that Tarantino-esque feel right.

Once in a while, people do still try to resurrect that kind of crime film, but clearly the trend has long died and we don’t encounter this sort of films as frequently anymore, but I started to think about them all over again after I stumbled upon a few new films that can’t help but bring the word Tarantino to mind when I watched them. And surprisingly, quite a few of them are British!

Once Upon A Time In Venice

Written and directed by the guys who wrote Cop Out, this is a pretty sorry excuse for a Tarantino-esque film, even if there are a few scenes here that’s at least worth a few giggles.

How on earth it managed to get a cinema release here in Malaysia a few weeks back, I’ll never know but it’s at least a bit more fun than most of the straight-to-video dross that’s got Bruce Willis’ name on it in the last few years.

Here Willis plays a wisecracking private detective sent on a seemingly twisty hunt for his stolen dog, some stolen money, stolen drugs and a vulgar graffiti artist which of course turns out to be randomly linked to one another, as they tend to be in these films.

It fancies itself to be clever and funny, but believe me when I say that this one is at best a diverting chore to sit through.

Free Fire

Hands down the best film of the bunch, and would’ve given even Tarantino a run for his money. If this one had come  out in the 90s, this hugely impressive new film from British genre whiz Ben Wheatley (of Down Terrace, Kill List and Sightseers fame) is a virtuoso showcase of Wheatley’s directing skills, with probably at least 95 per cent of it being set in a single location ― an abandoned warehouse supposedly somewhere in Boston (but actually shot in Brighton).

It pits two sets of characters against each other, one a team of IRA munitions buyers and the other a team of arms suppliers, Wheatley lets all hell break loose as early as 15 to 20 minutes into the film, as a series of coincidences lead to disagreements, misunderstandings and a full on shootout, with Wheatley and co-writer Amy Jump stretching that shootout/stand off into a genuinely hilarious feature length black comedy.

Plot-wise that’s all there is to it, and that’s why I said that the film is a hugely impressive display of directorial prowess, because not a second of it is boring, even when it’s set in one location, with only a few characters and all of this taking place in what seems like real time. This one might even end up in my favorite films of 2017 list!

War On Everyone

When news emerged that Irish writer-director John Michael McDonagh (famed for The Guard and Calvary) was doing a buddy cop crime film set in the US, hopes were high among fans like yours truly, but I think there is a time when one can be accused of being too clever, and this film’s an example of that.

Referencing everyone from Simone de Beauvoir to Glen Campbell to even Huggy Bear in the two cops’ sometimes funny, sometimes merely filler banter, this tale of two bad boy cops is a throwback to 70s cop movies and TV shows, when cops can be “naughty” but are still likable.

But there’s just something lacking in the ingredients for this one, despite the slick camerawork, snazzy editing and snappy dialogue.


This one’s not exactly a 100 per cent Tarantino-esque crime film, but more like 65 per cent Tarantino and 35 per cent Christopher Nolan in its blend of neo-noir elements with time-bending (or is it mind-bending) narrative strategies.

Let’s call it True Romance meets Brick, shall we? Telling the story of a law student who stumbles upon a tough-guy criminal, and in a drunken state agrees to hire the criminal to kill his stepfather, whom he feels is responsible for the accident that sent his mother into a coma, the film splits into two alternate narratives (with a further surprise up its sleeve, of course) once the criminal arrives at the law student’s home the next morning to carry out their plan of the night before.

Playing like a neo-noir film shot by a Terrence Malick fan at times, British writer-director Christopher Smith’s (famous for films like Severance, Triangle and Black Death) new film has received mixed reviews so far, with some reviewers failing to realise that this movie is like a film noir updated for the DSLR indie film generation, an indie sunshine noir if you will, and it plays just fine to these eyes and ears, especially the performances from the trio of young leads ― Tye Sheridan, Bel Powley and Emory Cohen.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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