Quentin Tarantino has a knack for pushing the “cool” out of a character, making it bubble to the surface like an ooze that exudes the kind of quality you’d like to smear all over yourself in an effort to aid you with women. It’s the same kind of writing and direction that John Carpenter had smothered Kurt Russell with in films like Escape from New York and Big Trouble in Little China. It’s the kind of “cool” that’s almost hard to put a finger on. It can’t be replicated. Like a rare asteroid that streaks across the sky in plain view, it’s a rare occurrence that can only be captured once in a while, stuffed in a bottle and held onto, despite the aging process. Kurt Russell is still cool; his bottle of charisma yet to be opened and dispersed.
The phenomenon only happens once in a while when an actor transcends from thespian to “movie star,” that unmistakable moment when the person playing the character can become larger than the character itself. For George Clooney, that supernova exploded when he embodied the character of Seth Gecko in the Tarantino-scripted and Robert Rodriguez-directed, From Dusk Till Dawn.
Clooney’s look was one thing. The black jacket, the tattoo that extended from his neck down to his wrist, the hair, matted and greased with the grime of travel and the desert dust. It was a look that said, “I woke up like this,” because the coolest of the cool don’t spend hours in front of the mirror. There was his demeanor: “You be cool,” he said to the clerk in the opening scene, echoing his own mantra: Stay cool. Keep a level head. There’s a dichotomy there; the man who looks like he can explode at any moment, yet does his best to stay on an even keel. It’s as if he knows how capable he is, but chooses not to let the fire rage beyond his control for fear of the repercussions. It’s a commendable trait.
Then, there’s his actions, a code he lives by. Don’t kill innocents. Only provide as much violence as necessary. Don’t let big, overgrown men slap their “monkey” paws on your back when you’re having a drink at the bar. In other words, don’t take sh*t, but learn when to pick your spots. The kidnapping portion of the film’s first half almost plays clinically. Seth has a plan, and his plan is a good one. His mistake is trusting his brother to follow it… vulnerability. It’s another quality that makes Seth admirable because the best characters are vulnerable.
As the film turns to a horror movie in its second half, Clooney flexes his action muscles, something he rarely did up to that point, as he acted mainly in TV programs like Sisters and ER. Blood and sweat caked on him, and it added another dimension to Clooney’s repertoire, a badass hero. He even gives a preacher his faith back. If you haven’t fallen in love with his character at this point, then something’s wrong with you.
Much of what I’ve spoken of is Seth Gecko the character, and not George Clooney the actor. Although we can discern the character from the actor in the land of cinema, the two sometimes meld into one property, especially when one travels outside the realm of their purview as Clooney did with this film. He played Seth with so much bravado, and it was the hope of many that he’d continue this kind of anti-hero role that left him gleaming with a sheen that so few actors can gain in one role. As successful as Tom Cruise is, he could never pull off the feat that Clooney did here, and just a few years after Clooney made Seth Gecko a cult hero, he became Batman. Maybe not the best Batman, but if it wasn’t for his role in From Dusk Till Dawn, it’s likely that his career would have taken a few more jumpstarts before he could have become the success he is today.