Reservoir Dogs (1992)

brooke So, Reservoir Dogs was Quentin Tarantino’s first film. It has a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes, it consistently shows up on lists of greatest movies (not Ebert‘s but oh well…), and it is celebrated as a cult classic to this day. It just had its 25th anniversary… and yet neither of us had never seen it before.

casey Just one of those “haven’t gotten around to it yet” shows, but I’ve always liked Tarantino. His movies have a sense of purpose and a commitment to ratcheting up tension towards a violent payoff that few others can match. Reservoir Dogs, it turns out, is no exception, and it deserves its place near the top of the Tarantino heap.

brooke There were a few spots when the dialogue was a heavy-handed, like what you’d hear from teens playing at gangsters, but other than that I thought it was a solid flick, and shares a lot of basic DNA with one of my Tarantino faves, Pulp Fiction.

casey I think there’s an immaturity to it, but it’s in keeping with the characters and with Tarantino’s commitment to elevating B-movie schlock and exploitation.

brooke Reservoir Dogs follows a group of men before and after a jewel heist gone awry. Unfortunately for them, the cops were ready and waiting. Most of it takes place at the meet-up point, a warehouse where as the men arrive, they start to argue over who told the cops. Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) and Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) arrive first, the latter on the brink of death after having been shot. Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) shows up soon after and is the first to suggest they’d been ratted out. The rest include Mr. Brown (Quentin Tarantino), Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen), and Mr. Blue (Eddie Bunker), none of whom know each other outside of their relations to boss Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney) and his son Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn).

casey Besides a number of flashbacks for various characters, the action rarely leaves the warehouse, which means most of the drama comes from how the characters interact with each other, and, of course, the threat of violence simmering just below the surface. It works because even though they’re not exactly deep or intricately developed, they all have their own distinctive personalities and motivations that tend to be revealed at strategic moments, which makes Reservoir Dogs unpredictable and a lot of fun to watch, even at its most unsettling.

brooke Each character development piece made me more and more invested in the outcome. I was surprised at how deftly the movie moves through each backstory and how well everything fit together.

casey Of course, they are a collection of violent, racist goons, and one of them proves to be downright sadistic. At times the mood starts to feel oppressive in spite of the movie’s sense of humor, which I tend to see as a feature and not a bug: Tarantino has made a career threading the needle between fun and disquieting. Sometimes, as in The Hateful Eight, it veers too far toward the latter for me, but Reservoir Dogs strikes the right balance.

brooke I particularly think Steven Wright’s bits as the disc jockey (only heard over the radio) helps establish the feel Tarantino is going for. His low tone and dry delivery fit the overall feel of Reservoir Dogs. It’s not as violent as the Kill Bill movies (which I love), and maybe that’s due in part to a limited budget, but this particular level works really well for the tone he’s trying to strike and the suspense of it all works. The only exception for me would be the more sadistic scene you alluded to above.
Oh well… who am I to begrudge a man the chance to cut off someone’s ear?

casey I’ll never listen to Stuck in the Middle with You the same way again.

brooke Who could?

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