Director: Quentin Tarantino
Way back in 1991, a video store clerk from California wrote and directed his first movie. The movie was the talk of the Sundance Film Festival, it became a cult classic after its 1992 theatrical release, and it made its director one of the hottest underground filmmakers in Hollywood. That director is Quentin Tarantino, and that movie is Reservoir Dogs.
The movie opens on a nondescript diner, with our main characters finishing breakfast and discussing pop music. One analyzes Madonna's "Like A Virgin," claiming that it was all about a sexual veteran who hooks up with a well-endowed man. Another, totally oblivious to the conversation at hand, flips through an old address book trying to put a face to one of the names inside. This quick opening scene introduces us to our cast, then leads into the story itself. Through a series of flashbacks, we get to know Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), Mr. Orange (Tim Roth), Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen), Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi), Mr. Blue (Eddie Bunker), and Mr. Brown (Quentin Tarantino). The six total strangers are hired by Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney) and his son "Nice Guy Eddie" (Chris Penn) to steal a shipment of diamonds from a local jewelry store, and each are given their odd codenames with the intention of nobody knowing anyone else's real identity. That way, if any of the thieves are arrested, they'll be unable to name their accomplices.
The flashbacks help to fill in the gaps in the main story. From the dialogue, we learn that the diamond heist went bad. An employee pulled the alarm, Blonde started shooting random people, and the cops were on the scene before anyone had time to blink. We learn that Brown is dead from a gunshot to the head, nobody knows what happened to Blue, Pink stashed the diamonds in a safe hiding place, and Orange took a nasty shot to the stomach and has passed out on the floor of an abandoned warehouse that serves as the group's rendezvous point. Pink theorizes that the police had the jewelry store staked out, and that a member of the group is actually an undercover cop. As Pink, White, and Blonde look back at the events that transpired, it becomes more and more evident that Pink's theory just might be right. But which of the six was the mole?
A quasi-remake of one of Tarantino's favorite movies (City On Fire, a 1987 movie from Hong Kong starring Chow Yun-Fat), Reservoir Dogs is the kind of movie that might take multiple viewings to completely get what's going on. That's how it is with most Tarantino movies, so if you're unfamiliar with his work and decide to go rent his movies after reading this review, be warned. Tarantino's trademark out-of-sequence scenes actually help to further the plot here, because if we'd seen them in order, the entire context of the movie would have been changed. The movie would have gone from a "whodunit" to a "when will they find out" movie.
Tarantino's script is well-crafted, yet the characters don't do a whole lot besides stand around and talk. The script's dialogue and character development are frequently entertaining, though those offended by excessive profanity will be turned off. And although it isn't apparent on first viewing, or even on second viewing, Tarantino uses the opening scene in the diner to firmly establish our characters. Mr. White butts heads with Joe, at which point Mr. Blonde offers to shoot White for Joe. Mr. Pink protests when the others say he should leave a tip for the waitress, after he stubbornly refuses to leave one. Mr. Orange squeals on Mr. Pink when Joe notices the tip is short. Nice Guy Eddie establishes himself as a daddy's boy. All of these characteristics are reprised over the course of the movie. But the idea here is that except for Joe and Mr. Blonde, all of the characters are bluffing. They act tough, but aren't exactly great at handling themselves in desperate situations. The majority of the movie features the group panicking and jumping to conclusions.
The script is supported by the stellar cast. Having a small cast means that those involved have to work harder, and the cast does that and more. Michael Madsen, Harvey Keitel, and Steve Buscemi carry the entire movie on their shoulders. Buscemi is hilarious as the paranoid Mr. Pink, Madsen is both humorous and disturbing as the calm-yet-psycho Mr. Blonde, and Keitel is strong as Mr. White. Having Keitel in a crime drama should be a license to print money, because he's awesome here. Tim Roth is fine as the apprehensive Mr. Orange, and is really good in the scenes that don't require him to be unconscious and covered in blood. Also noteworthy are Lawrence Tierney and Chris Penn, though they don't exactly drive the movie or anything.
Along with the profanity-laden dialogue, people may also may be turned off by the violence. While the majority of the violence is implied, the idea of such carnage is enough to make squeamish members of the audience squirm. Meanwhile, I loved the soundtrack as well. Punctuated by a mock '70s rock station featuring deadpan comedian Stephen Wright as the DJ, the movie has some of the most memorable use of music I've ever seen. Michael Madsen's big scene, in which he tortures a police officer while "Stuck In The Middle With You" by Stealer's Wheel plays on the radio, is proof enough of that.
Reservoir Dogs is, for all intents and purposes, a low-budget B-movie that viewers will either like or hate. While his work improved with his subsequent movies, It is most definitely fun, though, and it was a great debut for Quentin Tarantino. If you claim to be a Tarantino fan and have yet to see Reservoir Dogs, you owe it to yourself to see it, and see where QT's career began.
Final Rating: ***½