Film Independent curator Elvis Mitchell greeted a sold out crowd at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art last night with an earnest, "Happy Black History Month, everybody!" Film Independent - an organization that has hosted a bunch of awesome events over the past few months we've featured on the site, including a Live Read of The Princess Bride and events for Gary Oldman and Brad Pitt - again hosted director Jason Reitman's Live Read series, a unique event that recasts current actors in roles from much-loved scripts and, for one night only, has them read it aloud on stage for those in attendance. Mitchell's greeting held a special significance for this particular event - a reading of Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs with a 99% black cast. (Live Read stalwart Patton Oswalt was the only white member of the cast, playing the voice of the radio DJ announcing the sounds of the 70s throughout the movie.)
The cast was spectacular. Cuba Gooding, Jr. played Mr. Orange (Tim Roth in the film), Anthony Mackie played Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi), Terrence Howard played Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen), Anthony Anderson played Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn), Chi McBride played Joe (Laurence Tierney), and as last-minute surprise guests, Common played Mr. Brown (Quentin Tarantino) and Laurence Fishburne played Mr. White (Harvey Keitel).
(Just to give you a heads up, the following contains spoilers for Reservoir Dogs.)
From the outstanding opening scene to the climactic Mexican standoff, the cast flew through the script with passion and enthusiasm. Tarantino would have been proud. Reitman chose QT's debut not only because it's a dense, dialogue-heavy screenplay, but because he wanted to reverse the races of the cast and see if that changed the dynamic. Surprisingly, not much changed - quality actors reading a fantastic script seems to be a universal formula for success, and race has almost nothing to do with it. There were some interesting race-related moments, to be sure: for those of you who know the script, there are certain racial slurs peppered throughout the story that were made even stranger by the color of the men's skin reading them last night. Cuba Gooding, Jr. seemed to be the audience barometer, glancing at us with a raised eyebrow when these moments came along as if to say, "ironic, huh?"
Laurence Fishburne was the best performer of the evening, taking on Harvey Keitel's role with the perfect amount of gravitas. He certainly wasn't afraid to raise his voice; in fact, most of the cast went into full-on shouting mode at various points during the read, adding to the electrifying tension of Tarantino's story. Anthony Mackie held his own with a large role, spending most of his time opposite Fishburne and providing a lot of laughs with his neurotic performance. Anthony Anderson was bombastic and funny, bringing the same swagger he had during his appearances on FX's The Shield.
The cast had a blast going through this script, one they all clearly respected and of which they're all big fans. They would laugh at each other's readings of certain lines, like a group of friends who had been hanging out together for years. Terrence Howard's mood changed from goofy to psychopathic when Mr. Blonde is reintroduced to the story; the actor went out of his way to memorize certain lines so he could deliver them creepily staring into the eyes of Common next to him during the torture sequence. (Common voiced the tortured cop, Marvin Nash, after his Mr. Brown character was killed.) During this iconic scene, the Stealers Wheel hit "Stuck in the Middle With You" played over the speakers in the auditorium, adding a funny and eerie reminder of how Tarantino completely rewrote a song's place in pop culture. Howard paused the action and had everybody cracking up when Reitman, who always reads the stage directions, announced his character's death; Howard grabbed his microphone and said, "I wasn't ready to die yet!"
This was the second to last of Reitman's series, and he hasn't announced what his final script read will be yet. I'm excited to attend and report back, so keep your eyes peeled at the end of March for a review of his final entry into one of the coolest events Los Angeles has to offer.
[Photos: Jesse Grant, WireImage, courtesy of Film Independent]
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