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Movie Review: Reservoir Dogs

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Although Reservoir Dogs is considered an incredibly violent film, it really has much less violence than you may realize. In watching the film this time, I decided to count just how many scenes in the picture actually have violence. I counted just eight, one of them being extremely sadistic (the scene where Mr. Blonde, played by Michael Madsen, tortures the cop).

The film starts off with the entire crew meeting at a diner for breakfast in one of the most brilliantly written scenes in film history. We get to listen to Mr. Brown (Quentin Tarantino) explain just what exactly Madonna's song "Like a Virgin" is about, as well as a brilliant discussion on just why Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) doesn't tip. It's really a great way to introduce all the characters in the film.

We shoot forward to after the job has taken place – and apparently gone wrong. Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) is driving a vehicle. Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) is bleeding profusely and screaming in pain in the back. Mr. White is attempting to keep Mr. Orange calm as they head to the rendezvous, telling him he's not going to die and he's going to be fine and whatnot. They finally get to the rendezvous, a warehouse used to store coffins and hearses, where Mr. White continues to try and keep Mr. Orange calm. Mr. Orange begs Mr. White to take him to a hospital, but Mr. White refuses. He tells him that once Joe (the boss of the operation, played by Lawrence Tierney) gets there, Joe will get a doctor and he’ll be taken care of.

Mr. Pink now enters the warehouse, visibly angry and hollering about the job being a setup. Mr. White disagrees, but Mr. Pink has some very convincing arguments. The police were there within seconds of the alarm being set off. The average response time is about four minutes; they were there in less than one. One thing they definitely agree on is that Mr. Blonde was completely out of line and is a psychopathic killer. Mr. Blonde went on a shooting rampage, killing a lot of innocent people as soon as the alarm was set off. It is felt that if they had known Mr. Blonde's personality, they never would have taken the job.

Mr. Blonde shows up at the rendezvous and, after taking a barrage of insults from Mr. White, informs them he has a surprise for them. He leads them out to his car, opens the trunk, and shows them the cop he has taken hostage. They drag the cop inside, tie him up, and start to beat him to try and get information out of him on the setup. They're really about to start laying into him when Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn) shows up. He agrees the cop must be killed, but insists they won't get any information out of him by beating him.

Eddie informs the trio of colors that Joe is on his way and that he's pissed off. If he finds all those stolen cars parked out front, he's going to be even more pissed off. Eddie tells Mr. White and Mr. Pink to come with him to get rid of the cars, and tells Mr. Blonde to stay behind and keep an eye on the cop and Mr. Orange.

Mr. White protests on the grounds that Mr. Blonde is a psycho and can't be trusted, but Eddie insists. As soon as they're gone, Mr. Blonde starts into his now famous torture scene with the cop.

Throughout the film, we are being given background stories on each of the central characters. These scenes, as they are inserted in sections during the present time, show how each character knew Joe, and how they came across the job at hand. This style of shifting between present and past has really become a staple of Tarantino's films and something that his fans have come to expect and love about his pictures.

One thing I love about Tarantino is his ability to get seemingly non-talented or washed up actors to give great performances. In Reservoir Dogs we have great performances by Chris Penn, Tim Roth, and Michael Madsen. Pulp Fiction has the revival of John Travolta, and Jackie Brown has the revival of Pam Grier. QT will take a chance on someone when everyone else in Hollywood thinks they're finished, and that's something to be admired. I think the reason he can do this is the strength of his scripts. While he is a talented director, it's really the scripts that make his films great.

If there were an Academy Award for best soundtrack, Tarantino would win it every time he made a picture. His use of classic rock in his films is incredible. He is able to pick the perfect song for any situation. The use of "Stuck in the Middle with You" during the torture scene is pure genius. 

Reservoir Dogs really thrust Tarantino onto the film scene, turning him into an overnight superstar. It's really incredible how someone who dropped out of school in junior high could write such brilliant scripts and direct such brilliant movies. It just goes to show you that education isn't everything.

Reservoir Dogs is really a gritty masterpiece, and something that anyone who can appreciate great writing should enjoy.

Grade: A

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About Moderns & Classics

  • Your comment about the actors is insulting, and any review of RD that fails to mention Ringo Lam’s “City on Fire” and the amount of material that QT stole from it is incomplete.

  • What is “insulting” about his comment about the actors?

  • Also, one could argue that any review that fails to mention the content Tarantino used from Kubrick’s The Killing is also incomplete. I guess your comment is “incomplete,” El Bicho.

    By the way, is it “theft” when someone’s doing an homage? Tarantino has said that Dogs was his homage to the “heist genre.” Are all homage films (and there are thousands) forms of theft?

  • Brian

    I’m sorry you found my comment about the actors insulting, but no where did I say that they were not good actors only that they were considered such by the hollywood big shots and that it took someone like Tarantino to bring them back into the light. You cannot deny that the actors mentioned were in tailspins as far as their careers were concerned and Tarantino grabbed them and put them back into the contention for good roles.

  • Tim Roth is mentioned and he was neither washed-up or non-talented. If you have a quote from a Hollywood Big Shot at the time to the contrary, I will retract my statement.

    Sure, one could argue that about “The Killing,” but what QT took from that film, such as the botched robbery and the time shifting, were not unique to “The Killing,” and at least QT gave credit to that film in interviews.

    He did not do the same for “City on Fire,” which has much more specific items used, such as costumes, dialogue, and specific plot points and scenes. Instead, he claimed to not have seen it, which seems rather unlikely considering how similar they are.

    It wasn’t my intention to mention every film QT took from because I don’t have all day, so my comment wasn’t incomplete. The characters color names came from “The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3” if you want another one.

  • Ah, El Bicho. King of the Nitpickers.

    Tarantino essentially expands the last ten or twenty minutes of City on Fire. The standoff sequence is especially highlighted. Tarantino essentially took the “heist” sequence and fleshed it out. This type of thing, the borrowing of sequences of films to expand upon them, happens all the time in film.

    Tarantino did claim in an interview with Playboy that he lifted the “skinny tie, black suit” look from A Better Tomorrow II. Certainly not something unique to Lam’s film. To put a slant on the “look” of the characters is really sketchy, as it’s not as though the black tie, white shirt, black jacket look is something inherently unique to one story. It’s like saying Butch killing someone with a samurai sword in Pulp Fiction is borrowed from Japanese movies.

    Point being that this could go on all day and, like you, I don’t “have all day.” When we’re talking about comparisons in films, we stand on really shaky ground especially with an “homage” filmmaker like Tarantino. He isn’t gifted with originality in storyline, but his knowledge of films and his encyclopedic ability to use parts of other films does make things more interesting.

    Reservoir Dogs has never been a favourite of mine, but when someone does an homage of the heist genre on purpose, one is going to see signs of that foundation in the film.

  • Brian

    I will repeat, I never said that anyone mentioned was washed up or non-talented. What I said was that this was the Hollywood perception. This can be seen by just looking at Tim Roth’s resume. Before Reservoir Dogs Roth was in what? Vincent and Theo? The Cook the The Theif His Wife & Their Lover? Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead? After Reservoir Dogs he got roles in Rob Roy and Everyone Says I Love You. What do you think got him the better paycheck? You could argue that it wasn’t that they considered him washed up or non-talented he was just more unknown and I would accept that, but you can’t deny that his career got a lot better and he got a lot more recognition after Reservoir Dogs

  • Brian

    And before you say anything, I know that there’s a big difference between unknown and “washed up or non-talented”. I don’t cosider him to have been unknown since he had been in a lot of films for ten years prior to Dogs but I would accept that to be a reasonable compromise.

  • Nitpicky would be complaining about something small like the cops in E.T. having their guns turned into walkie-talkies.

    Tarantino did more than flesh out the sequence. He used a number of items, not specific to the genre, but specific to City on Fire. One or two would be fine, but eventually they add up to QT, at the very least, owing an admission to City‘s influence. Notice you have done it here, which is more than anyone has ever seen QT do. I am more willing to defer to any evidence you have to the contrary and apologize to QT.

    As to your point to what QT claimed in the Playboy interview. Here is the exchange

    Playboy: Skinny ties, white shirts, black suits and sunglasses. How do you feel about the appropriation of the Reservoir Dog-s look?

    Tarantino: I think it’s great. If an action movie is doing its job, you should want to dress like the hero. After I saw Chow Yun-Fat in John Woo’s A Better Tommorrow, Part II, I immediately bought a long coat and glasses and walked around with a toothpick in my mouth.

    Yun-Fat’s look in ABT2 is different. He doesn’t have a skinny tie and a black suit as they do in City on Fire. Does expecting QT to properly attribute his sources really qualify as nitpicky? No doubt Jayson Blair could have used you when he was creating his homage to news reporting.

    Reservoir Dogs is a good film with some great dialogue, but it’s too bad apologists like you, who obviously don’t have all the facts, are willing to cut him slack to the detriment of other artists. I have had friends who have had stories stolen and turned into big budget films. If you ever find yourself on that end, I doubt your attitude will be so cavalier.

  • Brian, I haven’t seen you provide any evidence other than what you think it was like 16 years ago.

    Actors have to start somewhere and low budget films is just one place. Before RD, Roth worked with Robert Altman, Peter Greenaway, and Tom Stoppard respectively, but you want us to believe that Hollywood’s perception was that he was “washed up or non-talented” working with directors like that. Do you have one quote you can cite from anyone from in Hollywood at the time to verify your statement?

    You also wrote in your comments, “You cannot deny that the actors mentioned were in tailspins as far as their careers were concerned”.

    Travolta certainly got a boost back to the top, and Pam Grier got some attention but I can deny this statement applying to Roth. His career was headed upward.

    Everybody’s career got better after RD. That usually happen with a hit film, but that’s a completely different point than what you first wrote.

  • Brian

    The meaning of my first quote was that QT has the uncanny ability to take actors who are obviously not at the height of their careers and put them there. I didn’t go into all the details because it was just a quick point I was making about a quality about QT that I respect.