Reservoir Dogs (1992)
May 29, 2016 5:29 PM - Subscribe

After a simple jewelry heist goes terribly wrong, the surviving criminals begin to suspect that one of them is a police informant.

Roger Ebert: This film, the first from an obviously talented writer-director, is like an exercise in style. He sets up his characters during a funny scene in a coffee shop, and then puts them through a stickup that goes disastrously wrong. Most of the movie deals with its bloody aftermath, as they assemble in a warehouse and bleed and drool on one another.

The movie has one of the best casts you could imagine, led by the legendary old tough guy Lawrence Tierney, who has been in and out of jail both on the screen and in real life. He is incapable of uttering a syllable that sounds inauthentic. Tierney plays Joe Cabot, an experienced criminal who has assembled a team of crooks for a big diamond heist. The key to his plan is that his associates don't know one another, and therefore can't squeal if they're caught. He names them off a color chart: Mr. White, Mr. Orange, Mr. Blonde, Mr. Pink, and so on. Mr. Pink doesn't like his name. "You're lucky you ain't Mr. Yellow," Tierney rasps.

Variety: Hotheaded Harvey Keitel takes his injured cohort, Tim Roth, to a hideout where they are soon joined by Steve Buscemi, who is obsessed with remaining “professional.” As they ponder who the rat may have been, in comes psychotic Michael Madsen with a hostage cop... Tarantino’s complex plot construction works very well, relieving the warehouse setting’s claustrophobia and providing lively background on robbery planning, the undercover cop’s successful preparations and the gang’s crude male bonding.

Dripping with the lowest sexist and racist colloquialisms, dialogue is snappy, imaginative and loaded with threats, and the director, presumably with the help of Keitel, has assembled a perfect cast. Seemingly relishing in the opportunity to pull out all the stops, the actors could all be singled out for their outstanding work, but the same adjectives could be used to describe this terrific ensemble as they yell, confront, joke and strut powerfully and explosively.

With cinematographer Andrzej Sekula’s considerable help, Tarantino has but strong visual on the screen, alternating from ominously moving cameras to recessive long shots to put the action in relief. Sally Menke’s extremely impressive cutting keeps scenes tight and the time-jumping plot comprehensive.

NYTimes: Though small in physical scope, "Reservoir Dogs" is immensely complicated in its structure, which for the most part works with breathtaking effect. Mr. Tarantino uses chapter headings ("Mr. Blonde," "Mr. Orange," etc.) to introduce the flashbacks, which burden the film with literary affectations it doesn't need. Yet the flashbacks themselves never have the effect of interrupting the flow of the action. Mr. Tarantino not only can write superb dialogue, but he also has a firm grasp of narrative construction. The audience learns the identity of the squealer about mid-way through, but the effect is to increase tension rather than diminish it.

"Reservoir Dogs" moves swiftly and with complete confidence toward a climax that matches "Hamlet's" both in terms of the body count and the sudden, unexpected just desserts. It's a seriously wild ending, and though far from upbeat, it satisfies. Its dimensions are not exactly those of Greek tragedy. "Reservoir Dogs" is skeptically contemporary. Mr. Tarantino has a fervid imagination, but he also has the strength and talent to control it.

Trailer

Screenplay
posted by infinitewindow (16 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm pretty sure that somebody seeing this film for the first time in 2016 would have a hard (or maybe impossible) time understanding how exciting and different this film seemed 24 years ago at the time of its release, because its success and influence has been such that the elements which it brought (or in many cases brought back) to the cinema have been substantially mainstreamed. But at the time of its release this was pretty different than the average fare in the theaters and much stronger stuff than what the mainstream was producing.

I'd love to know, too, to what extent some person or persons rode herd on Tarantino during the making of his first few films because the flaws and weaknesses that you can see in nascent form in this release come into full flower as his career progresses and (I am guessing) nobody involved with the films any longer has the power to rein in his worst instincts.
posted by Nerd of the North at 8:15 PM on May 29, 2016 [5 favorites]


Also, while the write-up does a fine job of describing the film, I think it does inadvertently neglect an element which was an unexpectedly effective driver of the film's popularity. The soundtrack album, which became a surprise hit, gave the film quite a bit of staying power that I think it might otherwise not have had.
posted by Nerd of the North at 8:17 PM on May 29, 2016 [5 favorites]


...this was during the Los Angeles marijuana drought of '86. I still had a connection. Which was insane, 'cause you couldn't get weed anyfuckinwhere then. Anyway, I had a connection with this hippie chick up in Santa Cruz. All and my friends knew it. And they'd give me a call and say, "Hey, Freddy, you buyin some, you think you could buy me some too?" They knew I smoked, so they'd ask me to buy a little for them when I was buyin. But it got to be everytime I bought some weed, I was buyin for four or five different people. Finally I said, "Fuck this shit." I'm makin this bitch rich. She didn't have to do jack shit, she never even had to meet these people. I was fuckin doin all the work. So I got together with her and told her, "Hey, I'm sick of this shit. I'm comin through for everybody, and nobody's comin through for me. So, either I'm gonna tell all my friends to find their own source, or you give me a bunch of weed, I'll sell it to them, give you the money, minus ten percent, and I get my pot for free." So, I did it for awhile...
posted by leotrotsky at 8:22 PM on May 29, 2016


I'd love to know, too, to what extent some person or persons rode herd on Tarantino during the making of his first few films because the flaws and weaknesses that you can see in nascent form in this release come into full flower as his career progresses and (I am guessing) nobody involved with the films any longer has the power to rein in his worst instincts.

I would guess that it's less having some person or people riding herd on him and more not having the budget or the pull to do what he does now. He told smaller, more human stories when that was what the financial situation, the shooting schedule, and the available sets imposed; once he could afford to indulge himself fully and others would go along with it for the chance to work with him, he did so with wild abandon.

If you're talking about all Tarantino's creepy ideas about gender and race, though, they're pretty much here already. It's a movie in which literally every character other than the cop who gets tied up and tortured is a white male, and listening to their dialogue it's already clear Tarantino has given himself all sorts of privileges as a writer.

None of this is to say I don't think Reservoir Dogs is a fine, tightly structured film with some clever character and dialogue turns. But I think a lot of the problems people see in Tarantino's later work are still part of it. It's more that the genre he's pastiching here -- the tense little crime-gone-wrong thriller in the New Wave tradition -- is both more feasible for a beginning director and its conventions more amenable to character-driven storytelling than the grindhouse spectacles towards which he has since turned his attention.
posted by kewb at 5:45 AM on May 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


None of this is to say I don't think Reservoir Dogs is a fine, tightly structured film with some clever character and dialogue turns. But I think a lot of the problems people see in Tarantino's later work are still part of it. It's more that the genre he's pastiching here -- the tense little crime-gone-wrong thriller in the New Wave tradition -- is both more feasible for a beginning director and its conventions more amenable to character-driven storytelling than the grindhouse spectacles towards which he has since turned his attention.

I like his earlier films, especially this and Pulp Fiction, much more than his later films, and I think this gets at why I prefer those earlier films. The later ones are just so self-indulgent.

I saw Reservoir Dogs at a film festival the year it came out and it really stood out above most of the other films I can recall seeing that year.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:40 PM on May 30, 2016


I enjoy his earlier films more for similar reasons but I don't dismiss his later films, which I find interesting and more ambitious, and guaranteed to feature several dynamite scenes each.

I feel like there's sort of a trope concerning artists (especially musicians, maybe), who start out their careers doing what they love, then sell out for the sake of commercial success. Now, this trope could be bullshit a lot of the time, but I commend Tarantino for doing pretty much the opposite of this and continuing to pull it off. He managed sufficient commercial success early enough, and now he does what he wants. There's a reason people like things that are more tightly edited and less self-indulgent, just as there's a reason there's such a wide audience for formulaic pop music and predictable comic book movies: we like those conventions. They're comforting, they're satisfying, and they give us what we want. He's a few steps more off in the "making what he wants for his own reasons" direction, and I really dig this about him even if it's also the case that it turns out that mostly I like predictable, edited, more traditional films.
posted by MoonOrb at 5:58 PM on May 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


I didn't see Reservoir Dogs until last year and after hearing about it for so many years, I found it a little underwhelming compared to the films of his that came after. It's still a solid little caper but seems a little schematic compared to the later films.
posted by octothorpe at 6:13 PM on May 30, 2016


I rewatched Mean Streets a few years ago and both that and Dogs feel very similar to me. Not in the specific content but in that you can see how each director is finding his style but doesn't quite have it yet.
posted by octothorpe at 7:32 PM on May 30, 2016


I maintain this still stands up as one of the best tragic gay romances of all time (and my tolerance level for tragedy in my gay is pretty low).
posted by northernish at 9:28 PM on May 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


There's a reason people like things that are more tightly edited and less self-indulgent, just as there's a reason there's such a wide audience for formulaic pop music and predictable comic book movies: we like those conventions. They're comforting, they're satisfying, and they give us what we want.

But that's just it; I tend to think that most of his later films are more predictable than his earlier ones. With the exception of Inglourious Basterds, most of Tarantino's forays into grindhouse and Western genres have yielded quite linear, formulaic results; he doesn't even play with anachronic order anymore.
posted by kewb at 3:23 AM on May 31, 2016


One thing that still makes RD stand out is how it completely ignores the big heist itself - these days, I think even Tarantino would film out some fast-paced action sequence.
posted by lmfsilva at 6:38 AM on May 31, 2016 [5 favorites]


If you're talking about all Tarantino's creepy ideas about gender and race, though, they're pretty much here already.

He's also commenting on the characters' creepy ideas about gender and race. All through the film, women are mocked and slurred as sex objects, and yet it's a random woman fearing for her life who gut-shoots Mr. Orange and brings the whole thing down. All through the film, the heisters mock and slur African-Americans, and yet they exhibit the same behavior they claim to abhor while professing their love for vintage Pam Grier and Teresa Graves. "Everyone wants to be Mr. Black," as Joe Cabot says.

So yeah, Tarantino created racist and sexist dialogue, and uses it to illustrate just how empty all of these characters really are. I don't see any evidence of interest on his part in making concrete progress on race and gender issues in this film. However, he clearly is interested in telling a story about what happened to sexist and racist white men who stumble upon their morals too late in life to matter.

The oddest part of this movie is the scene where Mr. White first talks with Mr. Pink. He almost lights a cigarette, and then plays the scene as if he's smoking with a lit cigarette—taking drags, blowing smoke, the usual acting business that comes with smoking. But the ciggy is clearly unlit and whole. The frustrated filmmaker and media critic in me wants to know why that choice was made.
posted by infinitewindow at 12:24 PM on May 31, 2016 [7 favorites]


Keitel is a former smoker who has used fake cigs (and cigars) in other roles -- maybe they didn't have any on hand, or he just wanted that vibe of "former smoker but tough guy who runs in circles where people smoke, so he fakes it" in the character as well.
posted by Etrigan at 12:33 PM on May 31, 2016 [4 favorites]


I remember this one being pretty shocking at the time in terms of portraying violence and the aftermath of violence, though it may have just been my age
posted by Hoopo at 2:00 PM on June 1, 2016


I watched this as a teen around the same time I discovered the period of cinema that it references, and I remember being struck by the distinction between "action" and "violence," which I hadn't really thought about before.

There's so much fighting and gun play in action and heist movies that it gets weightless pretty quickly. There's relatively few action scenes in this film, the one at its core isn't even shown, and these people feel so powerfully, troublingly violent.
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 1:36 PM on June 2, 2016


I just re-watched this movie for you people. I think it does hold up even if you didn't see it back in the day. I disagree that the sexism and racism serve a greater purpose. Earlier tonight I tried to watch something historical on Netflix, one of those gritty, graphic cable shows (looks it up: Hell on Wheels), and it felt like the show had been set after the Civil War so as to indulge some sophomoric desire to use as many heinously racist terms for black people and Chinese people as possible. Sometimes I think writers create characters who give them a similar excuse for ugliness disguised as realism, and Tarantino gives me that vibe. He reminds me of a guy I lived with in a student co-op as an undergrad, who liked to give this little speech about sexist language, and how there are all these demeaning terms for women but almost none for men that are gendered in the same way, and I eventually figured out that this whole speech was him dressing up in fake feminism the thrill he got from saying all those words. It doesn't seem to me that the movie would suffer at all from softening that aspect of the characters—they are more interesting as a group of criminals whose job goes bad because one of them is out of control and another one of them is an undercover cop. They don't need to be virulently racist or sexist to tell that story, and the unnecessarily crude sexist and racist language makes it a hard movie to watch if you're a member of group that kind of language is used against.

It certainly is the heartbreaking story of two men whose feelings for each other cloud their judgment and lead to tragedy. I feel so bad for Mr. White, who believes in his "good kid" until the very end. That's an interesting choice—something that, I think, also didn't need to happen for the story to play out. But the emotional connection between Mr. White and Mr. Orange makes the movie feel like a tragedy whereas without that it might have felt like, I don't know, a clockwork. The emotional connections, not just between them but between Joe, and Nice Guy Eddie, and Mr. Blonde, are much of what drives the story.

I love heist movies, but I always think of the ones I love as more light-hearted, or more about the mechanics of the heist—I'm thinking of Ocean's 11, or Inside Man. The decision to make what happened inside the jewelry store the only part of the story we don't see is a good one, I think. I'd actually forgotten how much of the back story the movie shows to us—if you'd asked me before the re-watch, I'd have said it was practically 12 Angry Men, that nearly the whole movie took place inside that warehouse.

I liked the diagetic music. When Mr. White goes out to the car to get the gas can, he's been listening to the radio in the warehouse, and the sound drops out as the door closes behind him. It's very quiet as he's going to the car, and then the sound of the radio comes back into the scene as he re-enters the warehouse. There was something very effective about that for me, which I am too tired to put into words.
posted by not that girl at 11:42 PM on June 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


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