Reservoir Dogs Review

1992’s Reservoir Dogs was a landmark in the history of independent cinema. The first film directed by Quentin Tarantino, Reservoir Dogs broke the mold with its nonlinear deconstruction of cinematic narrative, and set the tone for Tarantino’s films to come; with violence, profanity, and pop-culture references abound.

One could sum up the uniqueness of Reservoir Dogs with one simple factoid: it’s a heist film in which we never actually see the heist, only the events leading up to it, and its consequences. Summing up Reservoir Dogs as such wouldn’t quite do it justice, but it is a good starting point in describing its unique style.

Reservoir Dogs centers around a band of criminals, each of which have been given nicknames: Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), Mr. Orange (Tim Roth), Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen), Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi), Mr. Blue (Edward Bunker), and Mr. Brown (portrayed by Quentin Tarantino himself). These six men are strangers to each other, but are acquaintances of mob boss Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney). Joe and his son “Nice Guy” Eddie Cabot (Chris Penn) have recruited the six men to steal a fortune in diamonds.

Things go awry, however, and the heist goes disastrously wrong. Mr. Blonde, a violent psychopath, starts shooting civilians, Mr. Orange takes a bullet in the stomach, and cops were ready and prepared at the scene, leading the criminals to grow suspicious that one of them is an undercover cop, and that the whole thing was a setup. Mr. Pink is the only member of the gang to have absconded with diamonds, which he has hidden as he rendezvous with Mr. White and Mr. Orange – who is slowly bleeding to death – at a warehouse where they wait for any other survivors to show up.

Reservoir Dogs set the stage for Tarantino’s nonlinear storytelling. While most of the film takes place in the warehouse in the aftermath of the botched heist, there are three different ‘chapters’ spread throughout that showcase one of the characters in the events leading up to the formation of the planned heist. Before the opening credits, we see the criminals enjoying breakfast at a diner, which gives us a little insight to some of their personalities by means of Tarantino’s trademark ‘removed-from-the-plot’ dialogue. One conversation revolving around Mr. Pink’s vehement aversion to tipping being a particular example at just how entertaining Tarantino’s dialogue can be.

If there’s any notable drawback to Reservoir Dogs, it’s that there isn’t quite enough of that kind of dialogue and other such trademarks that define Tarantino’s works. That’s certainly not to say that there’s anything wrong with the writing at any point in the film, but seeing as the majority of Reservoir Dogs takes place after a horrific shootout, that is understandably the focal point of most of the film’s dialogue. Again, the writing is excellent throughout, but with the writing being so scenario-focused for most of the film’s running time, there’s not as much character to Reservoir Dogs as there is in most of Tarantino’s later work (you may even wonder why Mr. Blue even needed to exist in this movie given his minuscule amount of screen time). You could say the director’s hallmarks are present, but being Tarantino’s first film, they still had yet to grow. It would be with his second film, the masterful Pulp Fiction, that Tarantino’s trademarks were set loose to wreak havoc on conventional movie storytelling.

Still, that’s only a relative complaint. It makes sense that a director’s first film would be a little rough around the edges. And when you consider the limited budget and recourses Tarantino had to work with here (reportedly, some of the suits worn by the cast were owned by their respective actors, as the film’s budget could only afford so many costumes), then the achievements that Reservoir Dogs does make seem all the more impressive, making the shortcomings of both the film’s personality and some of the characters a bit easier to forgive.

Of course, this being a Tarantino movie, Reservoir Dogs doesn’t hold back on violent imagery. Mr. Orange spends most of the film writhing in a pool of his own blood, and the film’s most infamous moment sees the deranged Mr. Blonde torture a kidnapped police officer while listening to the Stealers Wheel’s Stuck in the Middle with You. Per the norm, the violence is all part of the style and craft of Tarantino’s work, though some audiences may understandably find the torture scene hard to watch (even if it isn’t as graphic as a lot of movie’s you see these days). So a small warning for sensitive audiences, but Reservoir Dogs’ merits certainly outweigh any moments that may make you wince.

Reservoir Dogs remains an immensely entertaining and captivating film even today. It can feel a bit like an unpolished diamond when compared to later Tarantino films like Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, and the under appreciated Jackie Brown, but it’s a diamond nonetheless. One worth absconding with.

 

8

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Author: themancalledscott

Born of cold and winter air and mountain rain combining, the man called Scott is an ancient sorcerer from a long-forgotten realm. He’s more machine now than man, twisted and evil. Or, you know, he could just be some guy who loves video games, animations and cinema who just wanted to write about such things.

5 thoughts on “Reservoir Dogs Review”

  1. Never would have thought that I’d see a Tarantino review on your site, cool! I wonder what it would have been like to watch Reservoir Dogs without the high level of expectations knowing who directed it. I first watched Reservoir Dogs after Pulp Fiction and maybe a couple other films of his, like most people I presume. And yeah, you’re absolutely right in that it feels very raw and unpolished in comparison. It’s probably my second to least favorite Tarantino movie, with Death Proof being last of course (which I actually thought was pretty entertaining and well made). I do love the diner scene though in Reservoir Dogs, and I think it foreshadows the long, single shot dialogue scenes that make his movies so memorable.

    And yes, Jackie Brown is such a great, overshadowed movie! Probably his funniest and most rewatchable too. I can never get over De Niro’s character and how its so opposite of anything he had ever done.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, thanks! I admit I did just kind of add it out of nowhere. I do plan on reviewing the rest of Tarantino’s directed works soon (I hope). He has been one of my all-time top five filmmakers for a number of years now (talking of which, I also plan on making a list of my top 10 filmmakers at some point). Just deciding if I want to review his films in order, and if I should review Kill Bill as one or two films…

      Death Proof is probably the weakest Tarantino film, but even that is pretty darn entertaining (lack of any shred of a proper ending aside).

      Seeing Reservoir Dogs before the others might make it mind-blowing. But comparatively, it’s a ‘great’ movie amid trailblazers and masterpieces.

      Jackie Brown is so, so good. Definitely in my top 3 Tarantino films. You’re right, De Niro is really fun to watch in that movie (who isn’t?). He more or less plays a book which, as you said, is the exact opposite of what De Niro usually does.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Reservoir Dogs was a solid directorial debut, though having seen Pulp Fiction first, I can’t help but feel it’s a little prototypical. Still, the characters are memorable, and the nonlinear storytelling was highly inventive. Also, the Mr. Pink scene is classic. I remember making my brother laugh by quoting it. All in all, I think an 8/10 is exactly where I’d rank it myself.

    Interestingly, James Rolfe said he liked Reservoir Dogs more than Pulp Fiction in one of his videos.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I respect James Rolfe and greatly enjoy what he does, but there are times I am baffled by some of his opinions (which are just opinions, but you know). That was obviously one of those times.

      I brought up Mr. Pink’s dialogue the other day when playing Overwatch with my brother and some friends (yes, I still play Overwatch pretty regularly). That got a good laugh.

      Reservoir Dogs is a great film, it just has some rough edges that later Tarantino films would iron out. I almost feel like The Hateful Eight is a quasi-remake of it, albeit with some differences in setup and characters, but sharing many similar elements (bunch of scoundrels locked up in a small location, suspecting one of them is a traitor, etc.). I actually think Hateful Eight is the better film between the two. But both are excellent.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. If you’re talking about that video in which he detailed acclaimed movies he doesn’t love, I know what you mean; I ended up disagreeing with almost the entire list. It was to the point where when Doug Walker made a similar list, I ended up agreeing with that one much more (if for no other reason than because he had the guts to call District 9 out on being the piece of garbage that it is). I enjoy James’s work as well; a lot of internet entertainers have come and gone over the years, but he’s been amazingly consistent in his quality.

        Oh, that’s great. A lot of people like Mr. Blonde, but I found Mr. Pink a better character.

        The first time I saw this film, I was taken aback when it seemed to stop suddenly; every other one felt like a complete story despite the non-linear narrative. I didn’t see The Hateful Eight; maybe I’ll look into it at some point.

        Like

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