Finally got around to seeing this (the only Tarantinos I have left to watch are Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, and Django when it comes out), and it's quite an auspicious debut. It's low-budget, but never feels cheap. It has the energy and passion of live theater, but you'd never want it not to be a film. It didn't quite wow me in the same way that Kill Bill or Basterds did, but I still really, really enjoyed it. Laundry list!:
-I've never disliked Tarantino as an actor all that much because I suspect he just plays a variation of himself every time. This is particularly apt for stuff like the opening scene here or his famous Top Gun analysis in Sleep With Me: a motormouth convinced his circuitous pop culture theory is correct. It's a great, unexpected way to open the film.
-Right in the opening scene, you get what everyone's about, especially once they start arguing about the tip. Mr. White is an old-school, honor among thieves kind of guy, a man who thinks women should be treated with respect, and you always listen to your boss. Mr. Orange wants to be part of the group, so he's the one to tell Joe that Pink won't tip. Mr. Pink is above all concerned with both himself and professionalism. Mr. Blonde is a psychotic buried under a veneer of charm. Mr. Blue... well, there's really not much to him, is there? "Nice Guy" Eddie is a daddy's boy. And Joe is a crusty old fart who's tough enough to get Pink to break his no-tip rule.
-The cast is all great, although again I have to wonder about Mr. Blue. Eddie Bunker is in two or three scenes, and has maybe five lines. Did they just not want to deal with him that much on the set? I know Lawrence Tierney (who's perfect as Joe) was a complete terror, but I don't know. At any rate, our main guys are all terrific. Harvey Keitel does his Harvey Keitel thing better than just about anyone, Steve Buscemi easily steals the film for me, Michael Madsen is scary as hell, Tim Roth has the hardest part in the movie and nails it, and even Chris Penn manages to fit in among these crooks. His anger and crazy-eyes truly frightened me at a few points.
-What kind of accent is Tim Roth going for here? I ask because while he sounds like his natural British accent a lot of the time, there are a few weird points where he sounds Irish. Maybe it's just me.
-Even though I knew it was coming, the infamous "Stuck In The Middle With You" scene was still a real shock. As others have noted though, what makes the scene so horrifying isn't the actual violence since it artfully pans away when Blonde starts cutting the ear. It's Blonde's cavalier attitude, the creepy dissonance of the music and action or Kirk Baltz's believably terrified performance as Nash. I will say, however, that what we see of Nash's head after the slicing is impressively nasty.
-Orange blowing holes in Blonde as the song ends is another great shock. Even though Tarantino makes a point of showing him lying there a couple times earlier in the sequence, we still forget about him.
-One thing I liked about "not showing the heist" is that the dialogue we get describing what went wrong paints a terrific picture in our minds. Sure, we get a couple scenes like Pink and the White-Orange duo running for it (and the untimely death of Mr. Brown), but I think actually seeing, say, Blonde shooting up the store or the posse of cops trading fire would have diminished things.
So yeah, I'm looking forward to examining the rest of Tarantino's early work, including stuff like True Romance. One last question: should I read the original script of Natural Born Killers, see the movie, or both? I hear Stone rewrote and changed a lot of things, which pissed Tarantino off enough that he refused to be credited.