When a poor video store clerk in Los Angeles called Quentin Tarantino wrote the script for his crime thriller, Reservoir Dogs, he knew he was good. But he didn’t know exactly how good.
Let me just start by saying that Reservoir Dogs is a masterpiece. It centres around eight criminals who are involved in a diamond heist gone horribly wrong. During the robbery (which is cleverly never shown), one of the thieves slaughters every single one of the hostages because they set off the alarm, causing mass panic with themselves and the cops outside, waiting to ambush them. The crooks separate, but find each other again in an abandoned warehouse. Only four of six gangsters that were at the scene have survived. In the warehouse (where most of the rest of the film takes place), the ‘dogs’ can’t seem to work out who was the guy who set them up.
Told in an unorthodox fashion, Reservoir Dogs, takes us in and out of each character timelines, from their introduction to crime boss Joe Cabot (an especially grumbly turn from the late Lawrence Tierney) and their escapes from the botched heist. This is a film that keeps you on your toes and doesn’t let up even after its surprisingly cheery closing credits.
Tarantino (being a fledgling director as this was his debut feature) directs with panache, wringing every last drop of brilliant acting from his ensemble cast. The ‘reservoir dogs’ in question (who are named by colours) are:
Harvey Keitel as the gruff Mr White, who has a soft spot for the dying.
Tim Roth as the bleeding-to-death Mr Orange, pleading with his other colleagues to take him to hospital when he is conscious.
Steve Buscemi as the weasel-like Mr Pink, who has stashed away the diamonds.
Michael Madsen (in arguably the stand-out performance of the movie) as the complete psycho-nut job Mr Blonde, who ‘finds it amusing to torture a cop’.
Eddie Bunker (in the worst role of the film) as the cigar-chomping Mr Blue.
Quentin Tarantino even has the audacity to promote himself even more than writing and directing the movie, starring as the Madonna song-meaning-twisting, Mr Brown. QT’s attitude recalls the behaviour of a certain Mr Alfred Hitchcock!
And as their superiors star Lawrence Tierney as Joe Cabot and Chris Penn as his son, Nice Guy Eddie (who has a habit of sounding like a big baby, referring to his father as ’Daddy’ constantly!)
Reservoir Dogs was reviled by some critics at the time of release, because of its use of graphic (and thoroughly nasty) violence. In the scene that Reservoir Dogs is remembered for, Mr Blonde is ‘alone at last’ with the cop he took hostage, while the others go to retrieve the diamonds. He spends his time listening to his favourite radio station (K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the 7O’s), dancing…and torturing the poor bloke. Most people who have seen Reservoir Dogs refer to this scene as ‘unforgettable’ (and not always for the right reasons). Tarantino’s tracking shot that follows Mr Blonde out of the warehouse is almost a relief, deafening the muffled cries of Officer Marvin Nash (Kirk Baltz in a small but intensely powerful role) and drowning out the nasally tones of Stealers Wheel. But our horror is brought back to the maximum as he goes to his car to get a can of gasoline to burn the poor cop to death with!
But then, Reservoir Dogs can turn from gory, heavy-handed torture movie to black comedy on a pin head. From the hilarious opening scene where the ‘dogs’ discuss the ‘real’ meaning of Madonna’s ‘Like A Virgin’, to the next scene where Mr Orange is screaming and writhing in the back seat of a stolen car after being shot in the gut, the contrast couldn’t be larger.
The ending is shocking and unforgiving, not letting a single character live to tell the tale. Or, does Tarantino let Mr Pink drive off into the sunset, losing the cops and making a fortune with the diamonds? We hear gunshots, a screeching car and shouting outside, so could Mr Pink be the sole survivor? QT throws so many mysteries and (intentional) plot-holes into his mix of smart-mouthed, foul-mouthed dialogue and pop-culture references, that Reservoir Dogs demands to be watched, time and time again.
This violent tale is one of the most important movies ever made, not just because it broke censorship laws in terms of violence and threat, not just because it jump-started the career of one of the best director/screenwriters working today, because it encouraged normal people to go out and make films even if they weren’t born with a silver spoon in their mouth.