Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Reservoir Dogs

Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Crime, Drama, 100 minutes
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Starring Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Steve Buscemi, Michael Madsen, Samuel L. Jackson and Lawrence Tierney

Director Quentin Tarantino is one of the most passionate filmmakers I have ever seen. If you listen to him talk about his films, he can barely contain his enthusiasm. He reportedly dropped out of high school despite having an IQ of 160 because he wanted to pursue his passion. I can certainly identify with that.

Reservoir Dogs was Tarantino's first full-length feature and it contains most of the elements we have come to expect. Although his style is all over it, it feels a little rough around the edges. That doesn't stop it from being a superb film, but it's interesting to see how he perfected his craft in later efforts.

If you have ever seen a Tarantino film, you'll know that his dialogue is distinctive. In fact, I don't think anyone writes better dialogue. The story opens with a  restaurant scene in which a gang of thieves, led by Joe Cabot (Tierney), discusses the meaning of Madonna's Like a Virgin. The scene develops with Mr. Pink (Buscemi) explaining why he rarely tips. It's clever, funny and logical, and it says a lot about the character.

This approach is present in all of Tarantino's films and it's so refreshing. Why would thieves, police or German colonels only talk about their job? It just doesn't ring true. Tarantino's characters become more real because they talk about anything that comes to mind.

Reservoir Dogs is essentially a heist movie, but we never actually see the robbery take place. We see some of the planning and surveillance as the gang plans the robbery, and we see some of them fleeing the scene after it takes place. The bulk of the story takes place in a warehouse where the surviving gang members agree to meet, and it could be happening in real time.

Mr. White (Keitel) arrives first with Mr. Orange (Roth) and Mr. Pink. Orange was shot in the belly after the robbery and White and Pink are discussing what to do. Pink has a theory that someone ratted them out and that the police were at the scene much too soon. We gradually learn that Mr. Blonde (Madsen) started shooting everyone in sight during the robbery and his actions caused the police to intervene.

Tarantino loves to pause the story to explain the origin or background of his characters, and he uses that technique in Reservoir Dogs. We find out who Mr. Blonde is and why he is part of the gang. Another scene shows how Mr. Pink escaped the crime scene, although the account may not be accurate as it's from his viewpoint. The most interesting flashback reveals the identity and motivations of the rat and how he memorized an anecdote to make his character seem more authentic to the other members of the gang.

My favorite characters are Mr. White and Mr. Pink. I could watch Buscemi in anything and his character is similar to the one he played in Fargo. His final actions fit his character perfectly. Keitel's character is the most complex. Although he's a criminal, he has his own sense of honor. He clearly cares whether Mr. Orange lives or dies, while the other gang members seem indifferent. His choices are somewhat brave under the circumstances.

There is a lot of violence in the film, but the camera pans away from the action during the most violent scene. Like Hitchcock, Tarantino allows us to imagine the events rather than see them. The color red is removed from almost every scene, although Mr. White is seen wearing a red shirt at one point. This makes the scenes involving blood stand out even more. The gang wears black suits, white shirts and black ties. It's almost like a uniform.

I avoided seeing Reservoir Dogs for several years because I don't like pointless violence, but I'm glad I eventually decided to watch it. You have to realize that Tarantino's films are dark comedies and that humor is present in almost every conversation or situation. It's intelligent humor, but it's there. As a result, I'm able to watch the violent scenes knowing that they are tongue-in-cheek for the most part. I'm tempted to say that Tarantino films belong to a genre all of their own. The only other films that have a similar feel are some of the Coens' work, such as Fargo, and Martin McDonagh's In Bruges.

Reservoir Dogs is a fascinating and original look at events after a robbery. You can see many of Tarantino's trademarks such as the use of music, dialogue, camera shots from inside a trunk, flashbacks to expand characters and a Mexican standoff. I highly recommend Tarantino's unique style.

Overall score 4.5/5

Return to index of every review on the site.


  1. Great review Steve!

    You've captured the essence of the film and why it stands out as one of Tarantino's best. It's an incredible debut from a wonderfully passionate director.

    I never really noticed the absence of the colour red from the film so I will keep an eye open when I watch it next. Also I never really took into account the possibility that Mr Pink's explanation of his escape could be exaggerated because it was shown from his perspective, interesting point!

    Thanks for another great review!

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for educating me about the ending. I had never noticed that before.

  3. Nice review, Steven! This is one of those movies that I watched in my teens and liked but don't remember all too well. Time for a rewatch.

  4. Thanks Fernando,

    It had been two or three years since I saw it until I watched a few days ago. It holds up really well.