Reservoir Dogs is Tarantino’s first film. It’s a heist film, but the heist has gone wrong. The whole film is spent setting it up and then trying to figure out where it went wrong, and who is to blame. I tell you this in my first paragraph because it’s going to be impossible for me to not spoil this thing, because there are big reveals about every five seconds. You’ve been warned. I think you’re good for the next paragraph though. Just in case you’re wondering but don’t want to read the rest, I liked the film, but not as much as the other two of Tarantino’s I’ve seen. That’s in no way disparaging towards this film though, because they’ve all been good.
The opening scene is pretty amazing, and then it goes into the credits which are also really good. All of these guys are at a diner, you don’t know how they are related, you just know they’re a bunch of guys having a meal together. They get into some pretty interesting conversations about Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” and tipping. You get the feeling that this guy Joe (Lawrence Tierney) is the boss of the group when he tells everybody to pay up. Tarantino just basically throws you into the group dynamic without really telling you much about them, so for the entire time you’re trying to figure it out, which is not a bad thing. You do get the feeling something’s wrong based on the way the camera is circling around them anxiously. Foreshadowing ominous events to come. Then they all leave the dinner, this cool seventies music plays, and they’re all walking down the street in their suits and looking pretty dang cool. It’s probably one of the best openers I’ve ever seen.
After the credits end though, you get to know why the opening was so ominous. Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) is driving a profusely bleeding Mr. Orange (Tim Roth), who’s screaming at the top of his lungs that he’s about to die. Seemed pretty accurate to me. Something went wrong with the job they were on, and they can’t take him to the cops. Somebody in the group squealed. They go back to headquarters to wait for Joe and see if anybody else shows up. They do. Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) comes back and he’s freaking out trying to figure out who talked. Mr. Blond (Michael Madsen) comes back like he’s just gone out to Mickey D’s for a quick snack or something, totally unconcerned. Pretty strange, since apparently when the alarm went off he started shooting everybody in the jewelry store. This guy doesn’t seem too stable, and he’s definitely not.
This becomes painfully obvious when Joe’s son and second in command, Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn), comes back and decides to leave Mr. Blond alone with the dying and now passed out Mr. Orange and a cop he kidnapped. So what does this nut job do? Tortures this cop within an inch of his life, not even caring if he knows anything or not. He holds out regardless though, which is pretty admirable, though I guess there’s not much use in talking if the guy who’s torturing you doesn’t want to listen. This is probably the most famous scene in the movie, where Mr. Blond puts on the radio and dances around to “Stuck in the Middle with You” while he tortures this poor guy. Now I had heard about this before I saw the movie, and as per usual, I was worried I wasn’t going to be able to handle watching some guy get his ear cut off. It’s fine though; it’s not even shown. The camera is pointing at the ceiling off to the side. Basically all you have to deal with is seeing the aftermath and Mr. Blond dancing around like a psycho, which admittedly wasn’t too fun.
I feel like there’s a moment in every Tarantino film (that I have seen so far), where I know I’m going to love the movie. I’m going to be morally okay with it and it’s not just going to be mindless bloody violence the whole time. In Basterds it was the part where the British guys show up, in Django it was actually in the very beginning but then during the ending it took a turn for the worse, and here it was the moment (major spoiler coming) when Mr. Orange turned out to be a cop and shot Mr. Blond to save the cop who was getting tortured! I was so happy when that happened. I mean, this guy’s lying in a pool of his own blood, has been passed out (or maybe he was just pretending because he’s an undercover genius) for a good while, and just snaps into action all of a sudden! Improbable? Yes, but even more awesome for it.
This whole time we have been getting flashbacks from Mr.White, Mr. Blond, and for some reason I can’t remember if Mr. Pink gets one or not, but I assume he does. Mr. Orange’s though, lasts the longest and is undoubtedly the most interesting, since he has to learn how to go undercover and everything. There’s this cool guy teaching him to memorize a crime-related story that he can tell when he’s hanging out with the actual criminals. We see him learning it for awhile, and then it’s showtime and he’s actually telling it. This part is really cool because Mr. Orange starts telling the story and then we see it actually happen (even though the story is made up). He starts talking in his own fake flashback and it’s really cool. Also the way that everything freezes when he realizes that the cops are staring at him in the story is pretty nifty. Also, just as long as we’re on the subject of flashbacks I really appreciated the camera angles in Mr. White’s. Joe was giving him the job and the two were talking it over; when Joe was shown it was really low angle and when Mr. White was shown it was really high angle, showing how Joe was in control of the situation (he looks bigger).
Another one of the best scenes in Reservoir Dogs was when everybody gets their color code names. I’m pretty sure that this happened in Mr. Orange’s flashback, but this is kind of like Citizen Kane where you know everything that happens but you can’t quite remember who flashes back to what until you’ve seen it about three times. Anyway, they all get their code names and aren’t allowed to tell anybody who they actually are. This is kind of interesting in a way because even though this keeps Mr. Orange from finding out who most of them are, it also keeps them from finding out who he really is. They all argue about which code name they get like little schoolchildren and it’s pretty hilarious. I joined in, I’m pretty sure. For those of you who don’t know, my favorite color is green and I really love green. I was mad nobody got to be Mr. Green. I mean, that’s an actual name that somebody could have! They mentioned or used every other single color except green (and red). Even though I don’t like red as much, Tarantino should have Mr. Red, or the guy that was Mr. Blue because they got shot first and they were clearly redshirts. Maybe he doesn’t like Star Trek. So they ended up using white, pink, orange, brown, blue, and blonde which isn’t even a real color. I mean, it’s a hair color, but still. When they were arguing about it they also mentioned black (“You got four guys all fighting over who’s gonna be Mr. Black, but they don’t know each other, so nobody wants to back down.”), yellow, and purple, but no green or red. I know this is no reason not to like the film, and that’s not what I’m trying to do by bringing this up. I just love how that scene was able to draw me into the argument they were having. Anybody who likes green or red a lot is probably going to do the same thing, so nice move there.
I had a hard time figuring out what time period this was set in. They listen to that “Super Sounds of the Seventies” show, but I feel like the seventies would not actually have a show that was called that; it seems like a show that would happen more in retrospect. “Like a Virgin” was released in ’84, so it had to have happened after that. Nice Guy Eddie does have a brick phone though, so maybe it really is just the present day of ’92. Wikipedia says that the Motorola DynaTAC (don’t know if that’s the same phone but when I google brick phone that’s what I get) was manufactured from ’83-’94. Not too much help. The cars kind of look seventies and they’re all going around in suits all the time. Maybe these guys are just playing dress up or something. The reason I started thinking about this is that there were a lot of racist comments that I though would belong more in the seventies, but if the characters wished they were in the seventies than that would also explain it.
Reservoir Dogs is a pretty fun movie; I enjoyed it. Especially when Mr. Orange turned out to be a cop, because then I had somebody to root for. Though I also liked Mr. White. The only thing is that it doesn’t really have the broad scope of rewriting history and everything that the latest two have, but that’s fine really. Something that it did have though (that I neglected to mention because it’s not of much importance to the story) was a Great Escape reference! This makes me more confident in the stuff I noticed in Basterds. Tarantino must really like that movie. It may be his first film, and it’s pretty dang good. It’s a great start for him and I’m excited to (finally) get to Pulp Fiction next week!
“Don’t pussy out on me now. They don’t know. They don’t know shit. You’re not gonna get hurt. You’re fucking Barretta. They believe every fucking word ’cause you’re super cool.”
Long story short: 3.5/4 stars