Reservoir Dogs Was a Colorful Debut for Tarantino
This film topped my Netflix queue following the trio of John Cusack films but was not part of any streak or stream of consciousness queuing that I can identify. I placed it on my queue because I'd never seen it, despite my proclamations previously that I am a modest Quentin Tarantino fan, and this is his debut directorial effort. Also, the film has become something of a cult classic, not only for its moniker as QT's first film, but also because elements and aspects of the film have permeated other pop culture media, at least for a time. The references to anyone going by Mr. Color-of-Some-Sort come from this film, anyway, at least popularly. Plus, the film features a bevy of QT favorites who have appeared in some of his other films. All in all, it seemed like a necessary watch.
I had no expectations going in, other than the fact that I expected it to be extremely violent. I had also heard that this film contains the most instances of the word "fuck" used in any film, but I'm not so sure of that fact. It seems I've heard worse in film, at any rate, and I'm so desensitized to it, I barely remember it being used in this movie. If anyone has any insight into that random factoid of trivia, please feel free to comment.
When Reservoir Dogs begins, the viewer is introduced to eight men, sitting around a table, eating breakfast at a diner. Six men wear matching suits and use aliases: Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen), Mr. Blue (Eddie Bunker), Mr. Brown (Tarantino), Mr. Orange (Tim Roth), Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), and Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi). Crime boss Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney) and his son "Nice Guy" Eddie Cabot (Chris Penn) are also in attendance. The men discuss everything from tipping to Madonna's Like a Virgin as if they are old friends, but, in actuality, they are gangsters in league to stage a diamond heist. After Tarantino's trademark stylized opening credits, the action cuts to Mr. White, driving a speeding car and attempting to comfort Mr. Orange, who is bleeding from the abdomen, having been popped in the tummy. Mr. White manages to make it to the designated rendezvous point, an empty warehouse; drags in Orange, who will die without medical intervention; and is eventually greeted by Mr. Pink. White and Pink try to make sense of the situation. Mr. Pink, in fact, suspects a police set-up, and that one of their group is a mole. Their conversation quickly drifts to the subject of Mr. Blonde, who shot several innocent civilians during the heist before making a quick escape; Mr. White becomes angry at Joe Cabot for employing a known psychopath and confirms that Mr. Brown is dead, while Mr. Pink confesses that he has the loot and his hidden it in a secure location. Mr. Blonde eventually arrives on the scene, and while White immediately confronts him, Mr. Blonde reports that his pal, Nice Guy Eddie, is on his way to assess the damage and reveals that he's stowed away a cop named Marvin Nash in the trunk of his vehicle. The three men begin beating Nash to discover the identity of the mole, but Nice Guy Eddie appears, livid at the botched heist. He orders White and Pink to help him retrieve the diamonds and dispose of the getaway vehicles, leaving Blonde alone with Nash, after which the film gets serious. All throughout the movie, glimpses as to how these men came to be involved in this caper are shown through flashback and QT's usual preference for skewing chronological order.
Reservoir Dogs has been labeled a milestone of independent film-making, and such an assessment is not unfounded. This film could only be called groundbreaking, particularly given the time of its release, cautiously emerging into the early 90s after a decidedly mainstream and over-commercialized landscape of cinema predating its release by a few scant years. Reservoir Dogs is violent and raw and oozing a certain stylistic charisma that film as a whole had not really known before, all while maintaining a slim budget and enjoying the limited release of its genre. It's only through the director's relative fame and notoriety through his subsequent films, particularly Pulp Fiction, that spurred interest in this one, a modestly released and barely seen film when it was shown in theaters.
This movie succeeds because it doesn't compromise. Tarantino's particular flair is present from moment one, and while the film clearly feels like a debut effort, lacking the tightness and polish of subsequent works, it also rides the freshness and unfettered lack of restraint that generally accompanies a promising new director's first thrust into film (see also: Kevin Smith's Clerks). The torture scene of the cop, which is probably one of the reasons this film has generated such a loyal following (because of its novelty), is gruesome. It is one of the most gruesome scenes, I think, to be found outside of a horror picture, given its context. Imagine the possible reception at the time, assuming likely critics of such a scene were brave enough to watch it in the first place, and yet, the story is served by the presence of such a scene because director/writer Tarantino plants each narrative seed carefully and gives the viewer reason to care about this motley band of crooks, even the psychopathic ones, until their true motivations are revealed, one by one, and some with exquisitely executed twists and turns.
The best parts of Reservoir Dogs come with the performances of at least some of this relative band of unknowns, particularly Harvey Keitel and Steve Buscemi. Even QT as Mr. Brown was far less annoying and square-peg like in this film; his dialog is limited, and his exit from the film is quick. Also wonderful are Tarantino's usual creative use of shots from various perspectives - from long-lenses to handheld cameras - as well as his gift for choosing just the right soundtrack to augment the mood and feel of his picture.
Still, Reservoir Dogs, as hip and wry and groundbreaking as it is, is not perfect. This film is highly dialog-driven, like all of Tarantino's films. Yet, in this film, there is not enough action to counter-balance the ad nauseum dissections and ramblings of each character. The pacing, thus, is a bit choppy, meandering from slow, lengthy conversations to blustery exchanges of gunfire and other forms of violence. Also, in some ways, the film feels like it is missing something; perhaps, it's the skeletal structure of the character development or the lack of a true "aha!" moment as in some of QT's other films, but for this viewer anyway, the film did not inspire the same thrill as some of those other efforts. I didn't really care about any of these characters; in some ways, they felt like caricatures or, even, paper dolls - two-dimensional and flimsy, when all of the characters, even the villains, in other QT films I've seen are so much richer. Hindsight may be "20/20," but as good as Reservoir Dogs is, even considering the kind of film it is, it's not necessarily a great film.
Yet, even QT's "good not great" films are heaps better than other directors' or screenwriters' great films. There is still quite a bit to enjoy about Reservoir Dogs, anyway. My favorite parts included the opening credits and the ending, after all the shocking twists coalesce into one perfectly executed finale that makes the most sense for what the viewer is given about each of these crooked characters. In any event, after careful consideration, I feel Reservoir Dogs merits an 8 on the patented ratings scale for being very good good but having minor flaws. It also does not pass the test. I own Pulp Fiction, the Kill Bills, and will probably buy Inglourious Basterds, but this film doesn't strike me as one I'd pull out for a giggle. Still, if you are remotely a fan of this director, I highly recommend Reservoir Dogs - it's his first go, and all the best parts of Quentin's directorial style are present in this colorful debut.