Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.
So let’s get this over with. I’m not a massive Quentin Tarantino fan. I actually like a lot of his films pretty well; my issue is more with his public persona than his films. However, there are things about his films of which I am not a fan. One of the selling points of Tarantino’s films is his dialogue. A lot of his dialogue really is good, but a lot of it seems to exist only to show how much obscure music or movie trivia he knows. Fortunately, that doesn’t come up much in Reservoir Dogs.
Plot is simplicity itself: six guys are hired to knock over a jeweler. The plan goes bad because evidently they were set up, and they’re fairly convinced that one of the group, either the six or the men who hired them are working with the cops or may in fact be a cop. Typical of Tarantino, nothing happens in order and there are a lot of flashbacks and playing with time and narrative. But really, the bulk of the story is the job goes bust and the surviving members of the team try to figure out what happened.
One of the great innovations of the film is that each of the six are given pseudonyms to protect themselves. They are, in no particular order, Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi), Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen), Mr. Orange (Tim Roth), Mr. Brown (Quentin Tarantino), and Mr. Blue (Edward Bunker). The job is controlled by Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn) and his father, Joe (Lawrence Tierney). We start with the whole crew of eight in a diner on the morning of the job, and then, as per Tarantino’s typical playing with narrative, we jump to the aftermath, with Mr. Orange shot in the stomach and bleeding out and the job gone haywire.
Throughout, we get flashbacks the tell us how several of the main players were brought on the job. Each of these give us a certain amount of insight into several of the characters, at least the important ones. Mr. Blue simply vanishes, and Mr. Brown we know ends up shot and killed during the robbery. It’s the other four we’re a lot more concerned with. One little piece of the “everything in Tarantino’s universe is connected” meme is that Mr. Blonde’s real name is Vic Vega, which has led many to believe that he’s the brother of Vincent Vega (John Travolta’s character in Pulp Fiction).
This is very much not an easy film to watch. In fact, the first time I saw this film, I rented it with the intent of watching it with my wife, who is a huge fan of Pulp Fiction. Sue walked out about halfway through during “the scene.” If you’ve seen Reservoir Dogs, you know precisely what scene I’m talking about. Yeah, that one. Sue decided that fan of Pulp Fiction or no, she couldn’t handle watching anymore. I stayed around and watched the rest, but I fully understand why she walked away.
I’ll say this: even though I’m not a huge Tarantino fan, this is a hell of a debut. It’s not his best film, but it’s one that legitimately catapulted him into prominence, as it should have. It’s a sold script start to finish, and features some fantastic performances. Tim Roth spends the first half of the film lying in a pool of his own blood, but comes into his own in the second half. Chris Penn, for a guy whose career featured a lot of b-movies, does a more than admirable job in his role. For me, though, it’s Steve Buscemi who really makes the film what it is. It was also in many ways the film that made him who he became as an actor. He’d had a few plum roles before (as a favorite of the Coens, he’d been in a few of their films a few years earlier), but Reservoir Dogs gave him a more important and expansive role, and really allowed him to show off his chops.
Anyway, I have no objection to this being essential viewing. I can’t pretend that I’m sad that Quentin Tarantino is in the rearview mirror, though, if only until Django Unchained gets put on the list six to eight months from now.
Two final things: first, Tim Roth, when acting like he’s been shot in the stomach, sounds a lot like Bobcat Goldthwait. This is just for the record. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t sound like Bobcat Goldthwait if I’d been shot in the stomach, I’m just saying that’s who Roth sounds like. Those of you Tarantino fans reading this, try not to think about that the next time you watch Reservoir Dogs. The second thing is this—while I think this is a hell of a movie, the plot really does boil down to one of the older tropes, in that it’s the new guy who can’t be trusted. It’s always the new guy. Hasn’t anyone figured that out yet?
Why to watch Reservoir Dogs: A reinvention of film noir.
Why not to watch: If you’re sensitive, it’s far too violent.
Reservoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantino, crime, thriller
Steve, I watched Reservoir Dogs again a few years ago while checking out a bunch of heist films. In that context, it was interesting to see how Tarantino messed with the genre conventions while sticking to them. I agree that it isn't his best work but is a pretty stunning debut. It's also nice to see him doing a genre film that isn't three hours long.ReplyDelete
Amen to the length.Delete
This film is a lot of the reason I tend to get disappointed with Tarantino. He quite obviously had/has the chops to write really smart scripts that have a feel of a genre while breaking rules of the genre.
I've said it before--I'd be a lot happier with him if he spent less time trying to be awesome and more time trying to just be good.
Definitely. It's good to shoot for the stars sometimes, but it's hard to beat just a truly amazing genre film.Delete
I can't remember if I saw this or Pulp Fiction first. I do agree that it is a heck of a debut. He got Keitel to be in it (which was a bigger thing back then than it is now) so the script must have been impressive.ReplyDelete
Yeah, you'll never hear Stealers Wheel's Stuck in the Middle with You the same way again.
I'm in the "like, not love" camp when it comes to Tarantino's films. I say that as a preface to this: I consider Django Unchained his best film to date. If it does show up on the list, you still may not look forward to it, but I don't think you'll have a bad experience.
You're right about "Stuck in the Middle." It's completely linked to that scene forever.Delete
"Like not love" sounds about right for me, too.
This is one of my favourite films, so its a shame you don't love it, but I understand your reasoning. Whether it'll remain one of my faves now you've implanted the Bobcat Goldthwait comparison into my head is yet to be seen, so thanks for that!ReplyDelete
I live to serve!Delete
I recall watching this on VHS a good while back, and wanting to like it more than I did (largely because of the violence). Having said that, everyone seems to remember the film for that reason alone - and whether they find it offensive or not (it seems immaterial insofar as it put Tarantino on the map).ReplyDelete
Over the subsequent years, i've softened on my feelings toward the violence in his films - although i'm not really sure why...
Probably for the same reason I like hard rock more now than I did 20 years ago--I've gotten used to it.Delete
Definitely one of the better pictures of Tarantino. The director's long obsession with violence is brought to the fore here. As much as people hate violence, for some reason they seem to embrace it in a OT film. Wonder why?ReplyDelete
For me, Tarantino's early films represent something his later films don't--they showed an encyclopedic knowledge of genre. He knew exactly how to push the right buttons for a genre film and exactly what ones not to push to make it new and fresh. Many of his later films look to me like showing off, like he wants to impress people with his knowledge of obscure films and music and abilities to make references.Delete
I look at it like this: his first films are great because he was trying to make a great film and tell a story. Several of his later films (I'm thinking of Kill Bill and Deathproof specifically) seem designed less about the film and more about getting people to talk about him. It should be all about the film, and if you do that enough, people will talk about you as a matter of course. He pushed his ego instead of the story, and the story should be paramount.
I also think he's running out of ideas - there are only so many cool movie references you can make. I also think it looks like he's trying a lot harder now - because he has to.Delete
But I do agree, I think he likes the attention, but i'll forgive him if he continues to entertain me :)
See, that's just it. There are several notable times when he didn't entertain me specifically because he was focusing more on himself than the movie.Delete