MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Crime Thriller/ Stars: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Chris Penn, Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Tierney, Randy Brooks, Kirk Baltz, Edward Bunker, Quentin Tarantino, David Steen; Voice of: Steven Wright/ Runtime: 99 minutes
I think it can safely be said that one of the first lessons I learned when I was teaching myself about cinema in order to do this job to the best of my ability is sometimes if an aspiring film helmer wants to get money for their first slice of cinema so they can make their voice heard and hopefully move on to bigger projects in the future then they should pen a script that places a diverse group of characters in a single location for the vast majority of the runtime and then pit them against each other in a variety of different ways. Indeed this is a trick that I have seen play out in several different examples with perhaps one of the more infamous being Steven Soderbergh’s 1989 slice of cinema known as Sex, Lies, and Videotape. At the same time though, this is also a trick that was utilized in the long gone year of 1992 by a then rookie film helmer by the name of Quentin Tarantino for his debut film, and the slice of cinema I am reviewing today, Reservoir Dogs. Yet, lest you think that this film like Soderbergh’s film would just be one big word fest that is equal parts quippy and verbal daggers I can safely say that’s not entirely accurate. Rather, this debut slice of cinema is hip, edgy, phenomenally acted, and remarkably well directed. Suffice it to say that Quentin Tarantino’s primary cinematic outing flared with a riveting energy that saw a time-honored genre of cinema given a necessary punch to the gut with its lack of political correctness, a not so subtle stream of dark comedy running through the whole film, and a script that seemed to be written by a serious entertainment scholar due to how many throwbacks to icons that it managed to contain with such examples including a literal onslaught of 4-letter words that would make Scorsese proud, a beginning looking like Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack walking through the streets of Vegas like they owned the joint (which I can most assuredly tell you they did), and a conclusion that Leone would recognize as one being in a similar vein to The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly to name but a few examples. Suffice it to say that whilst yes there are a few flaws to be found in this slice of cinema, there is still no denying how potent and riveting it is to say nothing of how it managed to be a truly fantastic intro to one of the more unique voices in cinema of the past 3 decades.
The plot is as follows: So Reservoir Dogs gets its yarn underway as we see 6 career criminals all gather in a Los Angeles diner to talk Madonna and why one of their number might just be the world’s biggest cheapskate due to never feeling like he has to tip his servers before heading off to take part in a jewelry store robbery that they have been hired to engage in by a master crook by the name of Joe Cabot and his son Nice Guy Eddie. The wrinkles in this distinct little plan is that not only have none of the 6 guys ever worked with each other before, but in some kind of attempt to keep their focus on the job Joe has given them all code names based on colors thus we have Mr. White, Mr. Blonde, Mr. Pink, Mr. Orange, Mr. Blue, and Mr. Brown. However lest you think this slice of cinema is just another run of the mill film dealing with another run of the mill heist you would be sorely mistaken. That’s because this slice of cinema has the distinction of being one which takes place more or less in the aftermath of the heist going horrifically and chaotically awry. As a result, one member of the crew is no longer among the living, a few more are missing in action, and the other 3 consisting of Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), Mr. Pink, and Mr. Orange with a bullet in his gut have made their way to the warehouse rendezvous point that everyone was supposed to meet up at in the jobs aftermath and are now left with few options, but to wait and see if anyone else shows up whilst also trying to piece together just what in the world to do given how screwed the situation appears to be. From there we see that one of the oldest games in the book begins to unfold as the amounts of paranoia, suspicion, and tension rise to hostile levels and the guys start trying to place blame somewhere for the severely botched heist. Yet it’s only after we learn from White and Pink that they believe their might be a rat amongst the group that things soon quickly and terrifyingly spiral out of control and the phrase “honor among thieves” is given a giant foot up the backside and shown the door in a way that will see loyalties tested, secrets exposed, and reveal that some people perhaps really aren’t what they seem….
Now in terms of this slice of cinema’s technical ingredients, they are all top-flight in every sense of the word. Indeed in the helmer’s chair we see that Tarantino does an exemplary job at raising the tension in the room between these men at just the right octave whilst also inserting in the story a series of flashbacks that aren’t extraneous. Rather, they do a wonderful job at fleshing certain characters out so we are able to get a better comprehension of who they are from a three-dimensional perspective. It’s also worth mentioning that save for about 30-35 minutes, the majority of this slice of cinema may go down in and around this old warehouse, but never once does it stumble or feel boring. A feat that is due not only to Tarantino’s skill at increasing the unease and tension at just the right levels, but also in how the various actors in a given scene carry themselves and interact with each other be it White’s fury at being stuck in the situation, Pink continuously trying to get to the bottom of things whilst still trying to keep a degree of professionalism among the rest of the group, or Blonde just smiling from ear to ear and without a care in the world because he’s most likely gone through this before and thinks that all is going to turn out for the better one way or the other to name but a few examples. Yet perhaps the biggest positive this slice of cinema has going for it behind the camera would be the razor-sharp script that the actors are working with. Indeed equal parts profane if not fairly discriminatory, pop culture allusion heavy at points, darkly comedic, and to the point, this is one script that any student studying film should definitely take the time to look at due to how on point and snappy this script is to say nothing of how it gifts the viewer with lines that will either leave them in thought or laughing at the gallows sense of humor that is being deployed in droves here. Finally, it is also worth mentioning that (as with most of Tarantino’s movies) this is not one for the squeamish amongst you. No the blood and gore in this is nowhere near as over the top as in something like Django Unchained or The Hateful Eight, but there is still a fair degree to be found here especially in one scene where a guy finds himself becoming holy in a way that is quite chilling and yet realistically showcased as well. Suffice it to say then that the work done by Tarantino and his creative team behind the scenes has managed to give us a distinct slice of cinema that is equal parts brilliant and raw all in one.
Now in terms of acting, I can safely say that every single performer in this cast all do truly remarkable work both in their scenes together and on their own. This starts with Harvey Keitel who is truly riveting as Mr. White. Indeed I have always loved seeing Keitel pop up in films like Bad Lieutenant, Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, and the National Movies to name but a few and in here he brings his A-game and then some in the role of a professional criminal who quickly and swiftly finds himself in a situation where the rules of professionalism no longer apply and it really is every man for himself and is as a result extremely conflicted when it comes to who he can possibly trust. More than that however, Keitel also does a great job at bringing not only a degree of paternalism to his scenes with Mr. Orange, but also a sense of fury and just plain irritability to his scenes with Mr. Blonde and Pink as they continuously time and time again find ways to test his last remaining nerve. Suffice it to say that Keitel really does a great job at bringing this character to life and it’s easily a career highlight. We also get wonderful work here from Michael Madsen who, in his role as Mr. Blonde, is easily one of the most cheerful psychopathic criminals I have ever seen. Indeed here is a guy who loves what he does with enough heart and passion that he is willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done including one of the most chillingly relaxed scenes of torture I think has been shown in mainstream cinema. Along with Madsen though we also get wonderful work from both Roth who does a terrific and perfectly enigmatic job as Mr. Orange right down to brilliantly giving us one of the more visceral yet seemingly honest performances of a man who has been shot in the gut and who is slowly but surely bleeding to death as well as Steve Buscemi who brings both a sliminess yet also a fairly surprising degree of level-headed insight to the role of Mr. Pink. Yet even when you look past these characters and at the rest of the cast you would be hard pressed to find a weak link among them thus making for one heck of a dynamic cast for this slice of cinema to have in its corner.
All in all it has been said that the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. A phrase that I definitely feel is perhaps the best way to sum up this slice of cinema’s narrative as well. Yet what Tarantino made in his debut slice of cinema was more than just cinematic proof of that phrase in action. Rather, he also made a bold, profane, raw, and visceral film that is made up of equal parts phenomenal work from a truly gifted cast led by the always enjoyable Harvey Keitel, a riveting profanity-laden yet extremely well-written script that keeps you chuckling at the dark comedic elements as well as completely floored at some of the things that happen to or involving the characters in this, and electric work from Tarantino himself at the helm. Suffice it to say then that in terms of cinematic debuts, Reservoir Dogs really truly was a home run right of the park for its distinct yet gifted auteur film helmer his first time up at the plate. Yet lest you think that this was a situation of a “one trick pony” I definitely promise you that this most certainly was not the case. Rather, it was only the start of one of the more iconic and illustrious film helming careers of the past 3 decades… On a scale of 1-5 I give Reservoir Dogs “92” a solid 4 out of 5.