Reservoir Dogs Reviews
Before becoming a cinematic auteur a young Quentin Tarantino worked in the film rental store Video Archives in Manhattan Beach, and would often recommend little-known titles to customers. On one occasion, he suggested Louis Malle's "Au Revoir Les Enfants", to which the customer mockingly replied, "I don't want to see no Reservoir Dogs." And so the title of Tarantino's blistering debut film was born. It was originally planned as a $30,000 personal film with his friends, before Harvey Keitel showed an interest in the script and came onboard as the star and co-producer which helped hike the budget up to $1.5 million. The rest, as they say, is history. Tarantino had finally made his mark on the movie map and has since become one of the most highly praised directors of his, or any other, generation.
Crime lord Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney) and his son Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn) assemble a crew of trusted criminals who they appoint with colour coded aliases to protect their identity: Mr. White, (Harvey Keitel), Orange (Tim Roth), Pink (Steve Buscemi), Blue (Eddie Bunker), Brown (Quentin Tarantino) & Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen). Their plan is simple: rob a jewellery store and make off with the diamonds to a prearranged rendezvous. However, the robbery doesn't go down well and those that are left alive suspect that they have a police informant amongst them.
Few debuts have made as much of an impact on cinema goers as Reservoir Dogs has. It heralded the arrival of an energetic new writer/director and opened up the floodgates to numerous crime imitations thought the 1990's. Few, if any, achieved the same impact. However, there were some that criticised Tarantino for being a plagiarist. There were obvious references to films like Stanley Kubrick's The Killing, John Huston's The Asphalt Jungle, Joseph Sargent's The Taking of Pelham 123 and most notably Ringo Lam's City on Fire. Without a doubt, Tarantino was influenced by these movies but stealing is a very strong accusation. Now, many years and several more films down the line, I think it's fair to say that Tarantino has an extensive film vocabulary and often pays homage to some of his favourite filmmakers. Film knowledge may be deemed esoteric by some but in Tarantino's case it helped him craft three of the best films from the 1990's - along with Dogs there was, of course, Pulp Fiction and the vastly underrated Jackie Brown. And besides the point of plagiarism, it was Tarantino's dialogue (entirely his own) that received the most praise for it's true originality. His characters talk fast and the words seem to jump of the screen and that's exactly where Reservoir Dogs' strengths lie.
If it wasn't for the non-linear, chronology of events it would essentially be a chamber piece. Set largely within the confines of an abandoned warehouse, each character talks through what actually went wrong during their bungled heist. The heist itself is never witnessed as Tarantino decides to focus on the aftermath of the robbery rather than the event itself but it's the sharp and descriptive dialogue that allows these events to come to life in our imagination and each of the actors are allowed to spout their words with as much colour and vibrancy as their blood soaked shirts.
There are many highlights amongst the ensemble but the three that stand out the most are the loyally professional Harvey Keitel, a highly-strung and opinionated Steve Buscemi and the cold, psychopathic Michael Madsen. If I had any issues with the cast at all, it would be Tim Roth's tendency to overplay his work. He, by no means, delivers a poor performance but too often over acts and his personal section of the story interrupts an otherwise precisely structured flow. This is a small gripe as Tarantino still has a solid handling on the material and executes it with the deftness and skill of a director twice his age. On this evidence alone his extensive, esoteric knowledge of film certainly paid off - not only for him but for the viewer.
Heavily influenced by the likes of Martin Scorsese and Brian DePalma, among many other filmmakers, Tarantino was certainly not the first to use non-linear storylines, Steadicam techniques or distinctive soundtracks but he was a luminary to ambitious young directors that followed, and a lot of that came from this breathtaking film that set a whole new benchmark. One critic described Reservoir Dogs as "...a bloody, brash, brilliant heist thriller that grabbed audiences by the lapels and kneed them in the crotch"... I couldn't have put it any better myself.
I don't really have enough good things to say about this one. A perfect example of a film that works on every level. A somewhat simple story of a group of thieves infiltrated by a member of the LAPD(Roth) who as a result becomes tight with a long time criminal (Keitel) on a heist gone awry.
A notch cast that gives each character a background that you just feel. The great Lawrence Tierney portrays the man behind the "jobs" who is about as real as crime bosses get. "It's my way or the highway". His unique low, raspy voice is quite effective and lets you know that you do not mess with him. Remember him as Elaine's father on Seinfeld?
And I should mention that this film utilizes locations in Los Angeles that are pretty much never shown in films which keeps things real.
So If you have missed this one and would like to know why Steve Buscemi's character Mr. Pink doesn't tip, check this one out.
*This is the film that launched Quentin Tarantino's career as a filmmaker and is in my opinion his very best work.
Reservoir Dogs is frequently cited as the point where American independent filmmaking began to experience a revival. Empire magazine even voted it the Greatest Independent Film of All Time back in 2008. The film had secured most of its funding through the efforts of Harvey Keitel, who had loved Tarantino's script, signed on to play Mr. White and called in a few favours. After it shocked audiences at the Sundance Film Festival, it was snapped up by Harvey Weinstein's company Miramax, and the rest is history.
When reviewing low-budget films, you're always on the lookout for directors who can achieve a great deal of visual depth with minimal means of creating such depth. On this level Reservoir Dogs is very impressive, with each of its locations feeling like they have a character unique to the film, when most of them had probably turned up on screen a hundred times before. The warehouse in which most of the action takes place looks tumbled-down and blood-spattered, as if it was showing its age from having been used in these kinds of stories so many times.
But while the buildings may be creaking under the weight of generic convention, the film itself is pretty light on its feet. Tarantino's use of hand-held camera puts us right in the centre of the action so that we feel part of the conspiracy and are hit by the fall-out like all the others. It is as though we take over the role of Mr. Brown from Tarantino, who appears in the first couple of scenes but then is never seen again. The film calls us to observe the action as well as picking up on all the nods to different films, and its movement away during the ear-slicing scene reflects our own repulsion.
This scene leads us nicely into the amount of references to other films Reservoir Dogs contains, and more importantly the manner in which they are conveyed. Just as the film never breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience directly, so it doesn't drop references clumsily into conversation, with the performers constantly winking at us. Instead, there are little motifs scattered throughout which film fans will pick up on, but which don't undermine the mechanics of Reservoir Dogs as a heist film.
In most cases the references are twisted to accommodate Tarantino's own creative decisions, something which is less present in his later works. The plot is lifted by and large from Stanley Kubrick's The Killing, but with the middle section involving the heist being taken out and the opening act of planning the heist being truncated. The naming of the characters after different colours comes from The Taking of Pelham 123, but instead of Mr. Blue being the head honcho and present throughout, in Reservoir Dogs he is pretty much dead from the start.
In an interview for the AFI surrounding Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fictionž Tarantino talked about different crime directors putting their stamp on the criminals in their films through the suits and accessories that they wore. He contrasted his penchant for black suits (which is cemented in Pulp Fiction) with Sergio Leone's dusters, Jean-Pierre Melville's trench-coats or John Woo's recurring use of doves. Tarantino's aesthetic stamp achieves the same as his predecessors, in elevating his characters above the norms of generic convention, so that even as we are aware of where they come from, they still feel like real people that could exist.
At its heart, Reservoir Dogs is a study of the structure of heist films. It's not about the twist, or who's the rat, or where the diamonds are, or who if anyone gets out alive. It is about the way in which we get to those kinds of plot points, showing the action out of order so that we understand how these scenes function, rather than just taking them for granted. Tarantino would develop this idea further with the hit-men in Pulp Fiction, showing us all the scenes we would normally never get to see and doing for the crime film what Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead did for Hamlet.
Reservoir Dogs puts a fresh stamp on the heist genre through two aspects which have become Tarantino's motifs. The first is the discussions about pop culture, which led to comparisons with David Mamet and Barry Levinson; early reviews pithily described the film as "Tin Men with guns", or "Diner with guns". One of the best scenes comes right at the beginning, where the gangsters are arguing over the hidden meanings of Madonna's 'Like A Virgin'. Later there is a chat in the car about the actress Pam Grier, who would later work with Tarantino in Jackie Brown. We hadn't really seen a heist film in which grown men had these kinds of discussions with straight faces before, and even after it's been copied a thousand times, the original still works well.
The second aspect is the distinctive use of music. The slow-motion shot of our rogues walking into shot to the tune of 'Little Green Bag' has become iconic in its own time. The drawling delivery of comedian Steven Wright, host of 'K-Billy's Super Sounds of the Seventies', provides an ironic running commentary on events and allows Tarantino to vary the pace of the action. Most effective, and affecting, is the image of Michael Madsen's psychotic Mr. Blonde, dancing around in the warehouse to 'Stuck In The Middle With You'.
This scene was a major talking point when the film was first released. It prompted walkouts at several screenings, including horror director Wes Craven and American Werewolf make-up artist Rick Baker. The issue was whether we are supposed to enjoy the violence, with the upbeat music making us feel good even as horrible things happen. The answer is that this and the other bloodbaths are intentionally repulsive, balancing the stylised nature of the plot with the brutality forced upon its players. You might even argue that this scene is blackly comedic, with the shot of the 'Mind Your Head' sign being analogous to the A Farewell to Arms joke in Evil Dead 2.
Within Reservoir Dogs there is an sadly underplayed discussion about the insecure position of white criminals in a town increasingly populated by other races. The gangsters in general, and Mr. White in particular, have a strong hatred not just of the police, but of blacks and gay people. Jason Reitman recently picked up on the irony within this, staging a rehearsed reading of the screenplay with all black actors, on the grounds that the characters "all sounded like black dudes to start with". If we accept this, the ending of the film gains a little extra meaning; the whites are betrayed by their own kind, and cease to control the town.
Not everything about Reservoir Dogs is perfect. Tarantino's dialogue is occasionally a little samey, with characters seeming to blend into one. And there are times when it is too clinical, not letting us get under the skin enough to make the film more emotionally resonant. But as debut efforts go it is hugely encouraging, being an efficient, sharp and gripping piece of filmmaking. Whatever Tarantino does in the next 20 years, it will still remain a damn fine first attempt.
"Are you going to bark all day little doggy, or are you going to bite?"
"Why am I Mr. Pink?...Because you're a f***ing fag!!"
A great Tarantino flick that cannot be missed!
In this multi-detailed review, I am going to depict and dissect a variety of the characters, and the amazingness of the actors that played them. I'll start with Mr. White, played by Harvey Keitel. I wasn't a huge fan of Keitel until I saw this film. But whenever he's on screen: BAM, he's fantastic. The way he cares for Mr. Orange is both realistic and touching.
Tim Roth is Mr. Orange, the main PROTAGONIST (it may not seem so at first but you'll see!), and he is phenomenal in a career changing role that is reminiscent of the greats from the early 30s. Roth is really good in this and proved his greatness yet again in Tarantino's next film 'Pulp Fiction'.
Michael Madsen is freaking mind-blowing as Mr. Blonde (by the way, these names were all chosen for the characters due to identity safety). Madsen's performance is by far the least appreciated in it, and is usually classified as the "badass" of the movie, but his character has so many deep meanings that can only be uncovered after several viewings, and because I don't want to spoil anything.
Chris Penn is kinda just in this movie. He doesn't stand out. This is definitely not my favorite performance from him, that would be his mind-fuck performance in 'True Romance', but it is undeniably impressive for one of his debut roles.
Steve Buscemi is my absolute favorite in this film. It's very hard to describe the awesomeness. I'll start with my favorite line from him: "Mr. Pink: You kill anybody? Mr. White/Larry: A few cops. Mr. Pink: No real people? Mr. White/Larry: Just cops." I mean WOAH. That is simply brilliant. First off, it reveals so much about the character with his neediness for classifying any protagonist as a "different" person but the fact that most of his conversations are similar to dialogue like this. So Buscemi is genuinely a great actor, and this role is definitely his best performance EVER, even beating out 'Boardwalk Empire'. So... yeah, this is a fucking amazing performance. Best of the movie, and one of the best in cinematic history.
Now, to finish it off; one of the greatest lines in gangster film history:
Mr. Pink: I'm very sorry the government taxes their tips, that's fucked up. That ain't my fault. It would seem to me that waitresses are one of the many groups the government fucks in the ass on a regular basis. Look, if you ask me to sign something that says the government shouldn't do that, I'll sign it, put it to a vote, I'll vote for it, but what I won't do is play ball. And as for this non-college bullshit I got two words for that: learn to fuckin' type, 'cause if you're expecting me to help out with the rent you're in for a big fuckin' surprise.
This is a fantastic movie, the best purebred gangster film of all-time outside of the first two chapters of "The Godfather", with a story in which loyalties are tested and lives are put at stake. While the language is indeed rough and the violence is tough to take (wait for Madsen to kick into gear), director Quentin Tarantino never seems to be overstepping his bounds. The ending is cold and unforgiving, seeing that Tarantino refuses to slam the door completely shut on to what all happens (if you hate ambiguous conclusions - this is not your movie). This is, undoubtedly, the best first-time effort by any filmmaker in history in my eyes. The fact that Tarantino not only directed, but acted in it and wrote the script, really shows how much this guy put into this project, and for it to have become not only one of the more respected crime thrillers in recent memory, as well as a cult classic, no one should be prouder than him. It is also admirable that Harvey Keitel, the lead star of the film, was willing to pitch some of his own money into the project in order for the movie to work out.
Perhaps most importantly, 'Dogs' serves as a premier example of phenomenal teamwork between a cast and their director. A lot of things could have potentially derailed a script as out-there and vulgar as this, but instead what we have here is one of the most remarkable films captured.