Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence and Language
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Tierney, Michael Madsen, Chris Penn, Quentin Tarantino & Kirk Baltz
Quentin Tarantino’s rise to fame is a tale that inspires any filmmaker. This twenty-something transformed from a video store clerk/film buff seemingly overnight to a sensation at Sundance 1992 with his directorial debut, RESERVOIR DOGS. Tarantino is clearly a guy who loves movies and that comes across in his work. While some might find his frequent homages to older movies to be a bit obnoxious, those who love the man’s work really love the man’s work. I fall into the latter category. Tarantino became one of my favorite filmmakers during formative years of high school when my passion for critiquing films was coming out. Though it can be a bit too self-indulgent in its dialogue, RESERVOIR DOGS is part of the reason that independent cinema is where it is today and Tarantino’s debut still holds up over two decades later.
A mob boss and his son organize an elaborate, seemingly foolproof diamond heist. In the process, they hire six criminals and assign each an alias (Mr. White, Mr. Orange, Mr. Blonde, Mr. Pink, Mr. Blue, and Mr. Brown). In a shocking twist, the robbery goes horribly wrong with two men dying, Orange getting a bullet in his gut, and the rest of the crooks scrambling to put together why this happened and what to do about it. They come to the conclusion that there must be an undercover cop in their midst and the whole job was doomed to begin with. As minutes pass, blood spills and the criminals get more desperate for the identity of the rat. We are given these answers and plot points through flashbacks of the remaining criminals.
Non-linear storytelling is part of the reason that RESERVOIR DOGS works so well. What might have been huge restrictions for other directors (a lack of sets and short amount of time), Tarantino turns into strengths. We never see the actual robbery, but we hear details about it from the characters. We are also shown the direct aftermath of the botched job which leads helps our imaginations piece together what a bloody, chaotic mess it was. Using careful stylistic choices, Tarantino thrusts the viewer right into the film’s oddball tone right from the beginning. This movie is violent and serious, but also has a twisted and darkly comical sense of humor. The latter is immediately obvious through an opening monologue about Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” actually being a song about big dicks and a now infamous torture scene set to the song “Stuck in the Middle with You.” It bears mentioning that Tarantino knew how to implement good soundtracks from the beginning of his career. With a running joke of K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies playing on the radio, Tarantino appropriately uses songs to help set the tone of his movie.
If there’s anything that will make or break your experience with RESERVOIR DOGS, it will be whether or not you enjoy watching these criminals. Frankly, I love these colorful (not only in name) characters. Tarantino doesn’t make the mistake of glamorizing their immoral lifestyle as he shows the ugly nature and frequent conflicts erupting amongst them. Harvey Keitel is fantastic as Mr. White. Though we aren’t given much info about his personal life, you can see that there are redeeming qualities to this villainous character by the way he treats the wounded Mr. Orange. Another big stand-out is Michael Madsen as the psychopathic Mr. Blonde. He’s just as entertaining as he is scary. Meanwhile, Steve Buscemi plays the slimy “professional” Mr. Pink extremely well. Lawrence Tierney and Chris Penn blend right into the roles of mob boss Joe and his son Nice Guy Eddie. The only performance that occasionally gets over-the-top in comes from Tim Roth as Mr. Orange. A few of his lines come off like he’s overacting.
RESERVOIR DOGS is one of the most influential independent films in cinematic history. It helped revolutionize a new era of filmmaking during the 90’s. Though Tarantino can be a little too self-indulgent in moments (he’s not a good actor, but still gives himself a cameo as Mr. Brown), his directorial debut stands as one of the most darkly entertaining crime movies ever made. RESERVOIR DOGS is pretty much required viewing for cinephiles everywhere.