June 7, 2008

Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Grade: 95/100

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Stars: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Steve Buscemi

What it's about. A jewel heist is organized by Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn) and his aged, lumbering, tough-guy father (Lawrence Tierney). The six-man job consists of men who have never met before, and know each other only by aliases. Most are ex-convicts, but there is an exception: an undercover cop.

Because of him, the heist goes poorly, although the jewels are taken and most of the gang manages to escape. Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) is anguished because his actions caused Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) to get shot in the belly. Mr. Orange is traumatized and oozing buckets of blood. Clearly, he will die unless he receives medical care. But White has obeyed orders, and taken him to the post-robbery meeting place, a warehouse.

Other gang members show up. Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) is an argumentative jerk. Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) is a sadist who murdered several employees during the robbery, which, surprisingly, is not shown. Mr. Brown (the director, Quentin Tarantino) and Mr. Blue have only small roles.

How others will see it. This low budget film made waves slowly in the United States, although it provided a launching pad for the enormous success of Tarantino's follow-up, Pulp Fiction. Reservoir Dogs has several gruesome scenes, and its language further reinforces its "R" status. This restricts its potential audience to those adults who can take it.

Not everyone will appreciate Tarantino's obsession with late boomer trivia, but those who get the obscure references (Vicki Lawrence recorded "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia", an insufferable early-mid 1970s pop hit) should enjoy them, as well as the raunchy interpretations of Madonna lyrics.

How I felt about it. This is an outstanding film. And it came from nowhere. It wasn't based on a famous novel, wasn't promoted as a blockbuster. It has no great message to express. It's simply a crime drama that looks like it was adapted from a play, since most of the scenes take place in the open room of a warehouse.

The question, then, is, why is Reservoir Dogs so much better than the typical crime drama. It's edgy, of course, and that does increase the tension. We don't know what Mr. Blonde will do with his switch blade and can of gasoline to kidnapped cop (Kirk Baltz). When he does it, we are repelled, just as we are by the sight of Mr. Orange rolling about in a pool of blood. Such scenes make a statement: the repercussions of crime are intense.

The trash talking also goes further than expected. Nice Guy Eddie dishes his friend Mr. Blonde with prison rape allegations that would make a sailor blush. Such outrageous conversations, as well as the surprising plot twists, provide clues to the quality of Reservoir Dogs. Primarily, it comes from the script.

There is a style element as well. The six members of the gang wear identical dark suits with white shirts and a skinny dark tie. Even after the heist, they continue to wear the suit and tie. This distinguishes the thieves from Nice Guy Eddie and his father, who dress more casually. The soundtrack consists solely of three 1970s pop songs. Then there's the attitude, which is in your face, and is what viewers will remember most.