‘Reservoir Dogs’ – ’92 Cinema Revue

Reservoir Dogs – #15 in the U.S. (Oct. 23-25)

All-Time Domestic: $2,832,029 | All-Time Worldwide: $81,615
All-Time Worldwide: $2,913,644

Reservoir Dogs is still a brilliant indie crime film with enough bite in its characters and story 30 years later.

It may be hard to believe that for 30 years, Quentin Tarantino has been a household name. An auteur whose career is fueled by a diet of international film, grindhouse shlock, and exploitation films. Tarantino has used this to his benefit by skewing his inspirations or playing them straight in homages. My first exposure to Tarantino’s work was the Kill Bill film, seeing the trailer as an 11-year-old boy thinking, “Whoa, this looks cool!” and not knowing it was going to be an R-rated film. I caught them on video thanks to my mom renting them both and was blown away by his direction, the action, and being stuck in a fantastical version of reality. 

Since then, I have been a fan of Tarantino’s work, looking forward to his movies as they release. Even if some have left me cold (The Hateful Eight), his style and aesthetic have always been appealing. I wrote about Reservoir Dogs in 2017 on another blog attempt when I was 24 years old. That review has definite points I touched on that I still see and love in the movie. It’s far from the “quintessential modern masterpiece” I saw before, but still the “thrilling debut” I saw the film as.

Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) is shot after a heist goes wrong with Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), keeping him safe in a warehouse nearby. Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) and Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) soon follow to see if this was all a setup by one of their own. While this occurs, flashbacks show how the Reservoir Dogs came to work for head honcho Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney), along with an insight into who exactly Mr. Orange, Mr. Blonde, and Mr. White are.

What makes Reservoir Dogs is the dialogue and character exploration while turning the heist movie on its head. To say Tarantino is fantastic at dialogue is the equivalent of saying “the sky is blue” or “water is wet” these days. Everyone and their mom know the man is great at back-and-forth and sprinkling nostalgia referencing, having people talk like real people and not a caricature. In 1992, it seemed like a breath of fresh air. There was now a reflection of how people talk up on the big screen about the intricacies of Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” or why tipping is terrible (which it isn’t, but go off, Quentin). The conversation is primarily boys being boys talking about unimportant things, but it feels human. Some people can speak about jargon or drive the plot forward in dialogue, but often, it’s nice to sit with the characters for a bit and relax. That’s what makes a later film of Tarantino’s, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, work to its benefit by seeing the characters as they are in their day-to-day lives. It’s present here, if in brief glimpses, to give life to the characters.

Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) lies bleeding as Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) comes to his aid.
Source: Lionsgate/Getty Images

The exploration extends into seeing White, Blonde, and Orange in their lives to see how they came to be and who they are. White has a heart, but he has done some misdeeds. Even in a moment of redemption as a savior, a cruel twist of fate comes for him. Blonde is a quiet psychopath who is intimidating in his mannerisms and deadly when allowed to deal damage. Orange is a good guy who does his best to pretend to be wrong, but it costs him. These are impacted by how Keitel and Madsen portray the characters, and Roth, respectively. Keitel, who helped push the film to be made after reading the script, nails the humanity of White and his father-like nature of him. He may have done a lot of misdeeds in his lifetime, yet he is not a horrible person under that criminal surface. Madsen is pure terror. The tranquil fury turns into actual crazed if calm madness during the torture scene set to Stealers Wheels’ “Stuck in the Middle,” showing the true menace lingering in him. Roth is naive, if a bit too smart for himself as Orange, developing a bond with White and becoming the audience surrogate with a secret we cannot wait to unravel.

Not seeing the heist itself but rather the before and after never serves as a detriment. The ambiguous nature allows us to understand what might have occurred through bits and pieces of dialogue and glimpses of the aftermath. Hiding the heist behind words in an action against the “show, don’t tell” method is extraordinary. Even unseen, we can feel the chaos that came with it and imagine the trouble the Dogs went through. It’s a heist without the heist; a crime thriller with the crime crossed out with the thinnest ink. The beauty of the movie’s twists and turns did not hit home as hard on this go-around. Dogs is a film that, while enjoyable on repeat viewings, a bit of magic gets lost in a revisit. It falls into the camp of movies perfect for showing a friend for the first time to get that experience again vicariously through them seeing it. Those who have watched later works of Tarantino may find the dialogue a bit dated, too, given he does get better in the follow-up Pulp Fiction. The abundance of hard-R N-word bombs by white characters is also oft-putting now. They are criminals in the long run, so it makes sense for them to spew it out, but seeing Buscemi drop several like it’s second nature to him is jarring.

Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) and Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) come to blows during a standoff in the warehouse.
Source: Lionsgate

The music is delightful, with Tarantino showing his nostalgia and knowledge for a bygone era of his youth. The part that works about the music selections is that he never goes for the obvious or on-the-nose choices. It’s rare if that even occurs in his films. There is not a generation since Gen X that does not know “Little Green Bag,” “Coconut,” or “Hooked on a Feeling.” The latter song’s staying power increased due to 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, selected by director James Gunn who also goes against the obvious song choices. I also admire Steven Wright as the DJ who sounds like he wishes to be anywhere else, but the radio station contrasts the poppy and upbeat song selections.

Reservoir Dogs is still a brilliant indie crime film with enough bite in its characters and story 30 years later. Though repeat viewings may have waned in my love the first time viewing, this is still one of Tarantino’s best as a showcase to show what he can do best.

Revue Rating: 4 out of 5

Next time, it’s a two-for-one week again. First, on Halloween, a review of Sam Raimi’s classic end to the Evil Dead trilogy, Army of Darkness. Then, a review of Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game, our third Best Picture nominee on the Cinema Revue, as we make our way into the end of October and into November.

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