Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Dir. Quentin Tarantino; Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen
I figured it would only be right for my first review to be a throwback to a classic director’s first film, and since I have recently been watching a number of violent films, I chose Quentin Tarantino, the master of gritty, disturbing epics. His first, the independently-made Reservoir Dogs (1992), is a good film that will always be overshadowed by the much better Pulp Fiction (1994), Tarantino’s second film. Reservoir Dogs is about a diamond-heist gone south, but due to a directorial choice (and the low-budget with which Tarantino worked), the film never actually shows the crime. Instead, most of the film takes place in a warehouse as six mobsters named after colors (Mr Pink, Blonde, Brown, Blue, White, and Orange) try to figure out who set them up. The stage is barren — only blood punctuates the drab and dirty bay of the warehouse floor, and the film jumps between the present and the various backstories of the characters. It ends with a nail-biting showdown, and, per usual in Tarantino films, no one is left standing. The film is worth watching, especially as it exposes Tarantino’s brilliant writing and directing to the public for the first time.
The film begins in a Los Angeles diner. Eight men (the six mobsters, boss Joe Cabot and his son), sit around drinking coffee and planning their next job. The camera circles incessantly, uninterested in framing one speaker at a time, and often hides behind someone else’s head. The scene is brilliant. In classic Tarantino style, it introduces the main characters in the film without giving away that it is doing so. The dialogue isn’t important, at least not to the plot, but the viewer hangs onto every word. This is Tarantino’s writing at its finest — raw, profane, and profound. The scene begins with an interpretation of the lyrics to Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”. “The entire song, it’s a metaphor for big dicks,” suggests Mr. Brown, played by Tarantino himself. Mr Blonde (Michael Madsen), disagrees: “It’s about a girl who is very vulnerable….” And the scene goes on, the discussion ranging from 70s music to the pros and cons of tipping. Mr Pink doesn’t tip because of his principle: “I don’t tip because society tells me I have to.…society says, ‘don’t tip these guys over here, but tip these guys over here.’ That’s bullshit.” The others argue with him, and in the end, he throws a dollar on the table because Joe Cabot (Lawerence Tierney) tells him to: “Cough up the buck, ya cheap bastard. I paid for your goddamn breakfast.” This first scene establishes the premise of the film, giving us some information about the heist; but at the same time, it introduces us to the personalities at play, and gives the viewer something to think about as the next scene begins. The rest of the film is shot inside the warehouse as Mr White (Harvey Keitel) and Mr Pink (Steve Buscemi) try to figure out who did or didn’t set them up. A few flashbacks show the backstory, and we learn that Joe Cabot hired them to rob a bank and the deal went bust, leaving the scared mobsters to sweat in the warehouse.
Reservoir Dogs has few faults. The acting is good, Keitel and Madsen in particular are brutally real; the writing is, at times, brilliant, and the cinematography is well-shot. But nothing really jumps out; on the whole, it almost feels like a rehearsal for Pulp Fiction. Interweaving plots unfold including a torture scene and a bloodbath, and the viewer leaves feeling like re-watching Keitel and Roth in the later film. Although I enjoyed Reservoir Dogs, I will probably never watch more than the opening scene again. I like Tarantino’s style — the comedic grit and commentary on film as a whole, but Reservoir Dogs just didn’t quite capture the essence of a great film.
– Nathan Modlin, 2017.