Screenplay : Quentino Tarantino
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1992
Stars : Harvey Keitel (Mr. White), Tim Roth (Mr. Orange), Michael Madsen (Mr. Blonde), Chris Penn (Nice Guy Eddie), Steve Buscemi (Mr. Pink), Lawrence Tierney (Joe Cabot), Kirk Baltz (Marvin Nash), Edward Bunker (Mr. Blue), Quentin Tarantino (Mr. Brown)
"Reservoir Dogs," the exhilarating debut film of 29-year old writer/director Quentin Tarantino, is a ballet of macho posturing, gun-pointing, and the creative uses of every four-letter word imaginable. Its testosterone level is off every chart, and it happily wallows in its own juvenile love of criminals, violence, and vulgarity.
Taking a note from Sam Peckinpah, Tarantino populated his film with morally ambiguous outlaws. Yes, these are criminals and killers, but damn, if they aren't charming and charismatic. Any chance we have of disliking these people is squashed in the film's opening sequence, which shows them in a small diner, sipping coffee after breakfast, and talking about the true meaning of Madonna's "Like a Virgin" and the ethics of tipping. They're tough, but they're also people with ideas, convictions, and humor.
Of course, the conversation is crude and juvenile, but it's also hilarious in it's intensely written David Mamet-style prose. These guys talk with gusto and a kind of rhythm that borders on being poetic. During the conversation, the camera stays low, endlessly circling the table, not afraid to fill half the screen with the blurred back of someone's head. It creates a sense of awe about these gangsters, which is solidified in the opening credits sequence that took more than a little inspiration from Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch."
As they exit the restaurant and walk menacingly toward the camera, we are introduced to each of the characters: Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), Mr. Blond (Michael Madsen), Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi), Mr. Orange (Tim Roth), Mr. Brown (Quentin Tarantino), Mr. Blue (Eddie Bunker), the crime boss, Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney) and his son, Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn). Decked out in matching black suits and thin black ties, they are a group of strangers assembled by Joe and Eddie, all given aliases so no one can rat on any one else if he's caught. They're on their way to commit a perfectly planned diamond heist, but sixty years of film noir have taught us there is no such thing.
Just when you start getting comfortable, "Reservoir Dogs" pulls a coup by skipping right over the robbery itself. Instead, it cuts straight to the aftermath, where we find Mr. White and Mr. Orange escaping the scene together. Obviously, everything has gone wrong because the group has been split up, everyone is in a panic, and Mr. Orange has been shot in the belly. They go back to a deserted warehouse, which serves as the rendezvous, and it is here that most of the action takes place.
Later Mr. Pink arrives, blathering about they were set up. "There's a rat in the house," he proclaims, and all eyes start turning on each other. Nobody really knows anybody else, so therefore, nobody trusts anyone, and no one is willing to back down. At this point, it seems like the thrust of the film will be trying to figure out who the rat is, but Tarantino confounds us again by disclosing his identity before the film is halfway over.
When Mr. Blond shows up a little later with a cop in his trunk (Kirk Baltz), things really start to get weird. Tarantino gives us bits and pieces of the robbery, which we have to assimilate from fragmented flashbacks and listening to the conversations. Apparently, Mr. Blond is a bit of a psychopath who started randomly shooting people in the bank when the alarm went off. "I don't like alarms," is his reasoning. This doesn't bode well with Mr. White who doesn't like working with psychopaths, and any questions we have about Mr. Blond's sanity are quickly erased a little later when he engages in a gruesome torture of the hostage cop.
Sitting right in the middle of the film, the torture scene is Tarantino's setpiece, which he uses to the extreme. Madsen gives a stellar performance as the deranged Mr. Blond, made all the more horrifying because he's so calm and charming. He's represents the most dangerous evil, the kind you might unknowingly let into your living room. "I don't care what you know," he casually informs the cop. "But I'm going to torture you, regardless, because it's amusing to me to torture cops."
Eventually, you can see that this film is working its way toward an inevitable conclusion where all guns will be drawn, and some if not all of them will be fired. There's method to Tarantino's madness, but it isn't apparent until the end credits are rolling. Everything that takes place is calculated to lead to the gory, nihilistic conclusion.
Tarantino is an extraordinary filmmaker, even if he isn't exactly shooting for the stars. With this first film, he shows a raw talent and an unmistakable understanding of film lore. Before breaking into Hollywood, he spent several years working as a clerk in a Los Angeles video store, and he obviously took more than a few films home with him. In both plot elements and style, he borrows from a number of filmmakers, yet "Reservoir Dogs" remains wholly his.
Without the fine performances, "Reservoir Dogs" would sag miserably because so much of the film is dependent on posturing and machismo. So who better to lead this motley bunch than Harvey Keitel and Lawrence Tierney, two characteristically macho performers who have cut their teeth on earlier films like "Mean Streets" and "Born to Kill.". However, Buscemi and Madsen are the two standouts. Buscemi is as slimy and cunning as he is hyper, while Madsen is the charmer with a straight razor in his boot and a total disregard for human existence.
"Reservoir Dogs" takes old conventions and puts new spin on them. It falls into a long line of movie crime that is meant to be sensational, not realistic. In some way or another, every character is a cliche, but because Tarantino knows this from outset, he is able to work the cliches to fit his own devices. It's obvious that he's in love with the material, and his affection spills into every corner of the frame, making this an amazingly animated and inspired film. If a few more directors had this kind of gusto and brass, Hollywood would produce better movies.
©1997 James Kendrick