For a directorial debut, writer director Quentin Tarantino brings the illegal fireworks to the party that restricts them and proceeds to set them off one by one all while flipping everyone the bird with a giant toothy grin. That’s Reservoir Dogs – a self-contained major highway pileup full of foul words, hyper-violence, and buckets of blood that you want to look away in fear of a gruesome outcome but can’t because Tarantino grabs each side of your face and forces you to watch the mayhem unfold. Every minute and second that passes in this 99-minute crime thriller builds tension like a pot of water until it spills out over the edge from boiling.
From the opening scene Tarantino grabs your attention and never once let’s go or eases up on the gas. A continuous circling shot of the antagonists as they share stories of before pulling a diamond heist that goes horribly wrong – crashing and burning off the edge of a cliff. Tarantino himself, codename Mr. Brown tells a story of the meaning behind Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” while Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) poorly explains why he’s cheap and doesn’t tip waiters and waitresses after a meal. Does he have a point? Some might say yes, but most of the crew disagree with him.
Cut to a slow-motion shot of the group of 8 walking to two cars then over to a bloody Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) crying in a back seat after being shot in the stomach while Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) consoles him. Mr. Orange will not be dying today. After they bond, the rendezvous is an abandoned warehouse where the meat and potatoes of the story takes place with non-linear cuts to the criminals being recruited. The leader Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney) and his son Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn) hire the 6 nameless goons to carry out a diamond heist. In, out in 2 minutes – what could go wrong?
A lot can and does go wrong. If it’s not Mr. Orange bleeding out slowly its Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) taking a police officer hostage, tying him up and committing torturous acts. With the amount of blood spilt in this one sequence alone, it’s easy to want to look away as Marvin Nash (Kirk Baltz) is on the wrong end of an interrogation. Poor cop, he was only 8 months on the job until the sequence of events put him in that warehouse with a bunch of toxic maniacs.
In between all the profanity, racial slurs, and violence Tarantino’s true talent blooms. It’s with the characters and their interactions with one another and their environment that stands out the most. I found myself drawn to the fresh but lived in brotherhood between Mr. White and Orange. The two barely know each other than their first names (which is forbidden) but it’s the performances of Tim Roth and Harvey Keitel that sell it. If they weren’t criminals, I’d believe they would be buddies – forget one of them dying and bleeding out.
The strength of Reservoir Dogs relies on the viewers imagination. Tarantino never once shows the heist, only the aftermath – Mr. Pink running for his life or Mr. Orange, himself and Mr. White having a standoff with police as they make their great escape. Believing anything that comes out of the mouths to be true, trusting these hardened criminals is another thing. To be honest, we don’t need to see the heist happening to understand the atmosphere Tarantino wanted to create. He knows the strong script also written by him will stick the landing in the execution and it does. In a Mexican influenced standoff, the climax of the film is completely satisfying after the continuous buildup over the previous 96 minutes. Tarantino covers a lot of ground within that time. We get key flashbacks and learn some harsh concrete truths about the colors. Every time someone calls Mr. Blonde a psychopath, they’re right, someone believes there’s a rat within the ranks, they’re also right. Tarantino never once cuts corners – his focus is on telling a good story.
The story is elevated by the performances of each color. Tierney poses an intimidating force of nature as he is known for (even in a small supporting role in Seinfeld Tierney is intimidating), Buscemi perfectly emotes the same panic that we as the audience feel the moment he returns to the rendezvous, Keitel’s Mr. White is the epitome of a true professional with a heart. Recognizing that Mr. Orange is dying, they share an intimate detail about themselves, Mr. White in the moment trusts Mr. Orange. Madsen channels a serial killer with a quiet ferocity.
Amidst the carnage, Tarantino establishes his own identity as a director. He looks like a seasoned veteran behind the camera in his debut. Using music to perfectly capture the frenzy and gravitas playing before our very eyes is equally soothing and terrifying at the unpredictability of what will happen next. I may never listen to “Stuck in the Middle With You” the same way again. Reservoir Dogs is never about the heist but it’s about the people involved and their extreme personalities and beliefs. In 99 short minutes, the film reaches its climax and conclusion, Tarantino effortlessly makes us as the audience invested because of how well the story is written. Pair it with tight cinematography and camera techniques that let the mind go to dark places, Reservoir Dogs is a strong debut from a director with untapped potential.
Written By: Quentin Tarantino
Directed By: Quentin Tarantino
Cinematography: Andrzej Sekula
Starring: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Tierney, Michael Madsen
Release Date: October 9, 1992
Running Time: 1 Hour 39 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
My Score: 4.5 out of 5