When you throw sharp dialogue, an ingenious structure, and extreme violence in the same boat, and ignite it all with a spark by the name of Quentin Tarantino, you get a bonfire big enough to burn its image into your iris. Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino’s freshman film, is certainly the type of film that impacts the impressionable; it is taut, gripping, and gut-wrenching. While it plays out in the style of a borrowed Brit crime caper (influenced by Scorsese and Woo), it still gushes with unflinching originality.
After a jewelry heist goes wrong, four hired con-men (who are given the names of colors to conceal their identities from one another), their boss Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney), and his son Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn) all converge in an empty warehouse. Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) and Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) attempt to analyze how the robbery went awry, and in their evaluation, they believe one of the hired hands is a rat.
Meanwhile, Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) lies on the floor critically injured and bleeding buckets, and Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) arrives with a hog-tied cop (Kirk Baltz) in the trunk of his car.
No review would be complete without mentioning the “ear scene” – in which Michael Madsen dances to the Stealers Wheel tune, tortures a cop to the point of slicing off his right ear, and then douses the “pig” in gasoline. This several minute sequence displays the idiosyncrasies of Tarantino’s method of mixing gore and comedy and also proves that Madsen can be cooler than a cucumber. However, this is not the only sequence worthy of note.
Throughout the picture, a variety of other moments are also capable of causing you to cringe, laugh out loud, or even both simultaneously—showcasing Tarantino’s guts, glory, and guile. The opening conversation – culminating in Pink’s motion not to tip – dually results in a few musings and laughs. The execution of the commode story – in which Roth’s character speaks the voiceover (a technique Tarantino uses again in Sin City) – is transfixing; yet the scene itself is both witty and intense. Also, while the closing shootout may be bleak and brutal, it justly suits the dark humor that preceded it.
With its ample allowance of dark humor, Reservoir Dogs satisfies not only in script but also with structure. To showcase the jewel heist, its preparation, and exactly what went afoul, the viewer is gradually given the pieces of the puzzle in a series of rewound clips. This non-chronological, energetic approach packs twists and turns around each corner.
In addition to its twists and turns, the soundtrack to Reservoir Dogs is, in a word, ideal. As the sand of the film’s hourglass transfers from top to bottom, the viewer is treated to tunes like “Little Green Bag,” “Hooked on a Feeling,” “I Gotcha,” “Fool for Love,” “Stuck in the Middle with You,” and finally Harry Nilsson’s “Coconut”—all as part of “K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the ‘70s.” By avoiding a score and sticking with a soundtrack, Tarantino certainly enhances the overall experience.
In the minds of many, Reservoir Dogs is Quentin’s most tightly-focused and best work. If not the best, then it arguably comes a close second to Pulp Fiction. It’s a gangster movie without the Italian Mafia stereotypes; it’s a comedy without a heart; and it’s a film with “masterpiece” branded on its forehead. If you want to have your stomach bathed in blood, lassoed tight, then violently wrung out by the coarsest of hands, then Reservoir Dogs is your ticket. I highly recommend it.