Tarantino in Review: ‘Reservoir Dogs’
To kick of our special series examining the career of modern cinema’s most interesting loudmouth in the wake of his most recent success we’ll be winding back the clock and rewatching his directional debut!
Cast: Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Lawrence Tierney, Eddie Bunker, Quentin Tarantino
Synopsis: A group of criminals are recruited by notorious crime boss Joe Cabot to carry out a diamond heist. When things go wrong and a string of corpses are left in the wake of the crime the survivors come to the conclusion that one of their own is an undercover cop.
Review: It’s not in the least bit surprising that the major studios wouldn’t touch this. A first time director who wants to sell his non-linear, brutally violent, dialogue heavy heist film that doesn’t show the heist. Originally Tarantino set out to film the story on a tight $10,000 budget but the involvement of Keitel pushed the account up to $1.5million leading to a film that uses limited locations and characters but has a slick, polished look. Even at this early stage Tarantino knew the art of film-making and used the resources at his disposal to craft a high quality production.
Another of Tarantino’s real talents on clear display in this debut is his ability to draw brilliant performances from his actors. Some of the actors are experienced performers and work as well as expected, like Harvey Keitel as the cooly professional Mr. White, but others are on their career best form. It’s not often I would give full credit to the director for the performances of the actors but there’s no denying that he can draw something special from his cast. Case in point is Michael Madsen who stands out in this ensemble with a cold, measured performance but fails to manage the same in any other role that comes his way (barring Kill Bill). Talented and under-appreciated performers like Buscemi and Roth are the actors who really seal the deal. While White and Blonde are cool and intimidating Pink and Orange are high energy and they burn up the screen.
Word is that the heist itself was initially left out for budgetary concerns but after Tarantino warmed to the idea he made it work phenomenally well. The movie begins with a scene completely out of context with the characters, not yet revealed as criminals, talking nonsense around a breakfast table. All we have to work on here is the interplay between characters before we jump to the rather visceral scene of one of them screaming and bleeding from a gunshot wound. Tarantino pulls no punches and isn’t afraid of dropping the viewer into a crazy sequence without explanation. We get drip fed information about who will be ultimately revealed as the rat takes a back seat to the character interaction which is played out in dialogue that feels as though it was written by a tap dancer on a keyboard. Bursts of violence interrupt the pop-culture and profanity laden exchanges that keep the otherwise long scenes moving at a strict pace.
Reservoir Dogs is regarded a cult classic of the crime genre and with good reason. It’s a tightly woven crime drama that thrills, shocks and is downright cool. Tarantino’s lack of experience does show through from time to time – he’s somewhat limited in his camera work and although he does try to experiment it’s not always in the right places. Having said that the opening scene ranks as one of the best ever filmed.
Score: NINE outta TEN