Reservoir Dogs

Certificate: 18
Running time: 99 mins
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Steve Buscemi
Genre: Crime/Thriller
Country: USA

20 Years on the Q.T

It seems odd to review a film that’s 1. twenty years old and 2. universally loved by film students and stag does alike but there’s always a method to the madness here.  I’ve made little secret of my dislike for Quentin Tarantino; I feel over the years he’s traded on his early reputation and cinematic knowledge in equal measures though try as I might I can’t help but be more than a little excited at the potential that is Django Unchained.  Yes the trailer is riddled with “nods” to classic, little known and spaghetti westerns but as my better half rightly pointed out “as long as you like the movies he’s ripping off you should like it”.  In preparation for the Christmas release of Django we’re going back to look at the oeuvre of Quentin Jerome Tarantino.

After a jewellery heist goes horribly wrong six strangers, all assigned colours are left dead or sifting through the wreckage of the day trying to figure out what went the fuck happened.  Ok so there’s a few little things we need to get out of the way…yes the film is a very thinly veiled remake of Ringo Lam’s City on Fire, yes the colour aliases are lifted straight out of Joseph Sargent’s The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three and yes it’s the accrediting of these to Tarantino that has allowed him to go on and on and on lifting from whatever film he wants but in all honesty Reservoir Dogs is a different cast because it gave back more than it took.

The crime genre on screen was a relatively simple and straight forward animal, Reservoir Dogs changed all that – for instance, Lam’s City on Fire not only tells the narrative from the undercover police officer’s view point (and law enforcement in general) but it also depicts the crime.  It’s tough to put a finger on another heist movie that’s ever existed that’s how the confidence to not show the heist, for the films realm to exist (largely) after the fact.  It’s a song without words, a joke without a punchline and not only do we never see the crime but the linear cause and effect chain which is all too often the bread and butter of heist cinema is shattered and restructured in order to tell an ensemble narrative.  Hollywood cinema all too often talks of ensemble performances but there’s always an alpha with a lead narrative and everybody else falls into line but not Reservoir Dogs.  The film is almost Russian in it’s viewpoint towards storytelling and spawned hundreds nay thousands of black suited hipsters talking cool and walking in slow motion to obscure 1970’s hits copycat films.

The cinematography of Reservoir Dogs is relaxed, non-confrontational and serves the narrative as another character and the way in which the camera “looks away” during the ear sequence is amazing.  In later films Tarantino’s style becomes about being confrontational, showing all which is lazy, the ear sequence shows he’s better than that…if he wants to be.  You can tell that Tarantino had been playing the film over and over in his head long before he reached out to Mrs. Harvey Keitel and got the script into the hands of the Bad Lieutenant.  It’s too well considered a construction not to have been obsessed over.

Keitel (as Mr. White) gives a strong performance; it’s far from one of his best and is very much a “Harvey Keitel” performance in the way that when John Wayne put a six shooter on his hip gave a “John Wayne” performance.  He’s merely the catalyst, the film belongs to many who were on the cusp of the public eye for many years and it’s those people who give the finest performances.  Tim Roth (Mr. Orange) is excellent he plays through many guises and masks and has an effortless style to him that has rarely been matched in his later work.  I’ve always found Michael Madsen to be a difficult actor in that he seems to perform inwards; all too often it leads to something of an imbalance between him and whoever he’s sharing a screen with but in Reservoir Dogs it comes across as a confident menace and has the ability to suck the air out of a room with a moments tension.  His later works with Tarantino (Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2) demonstrates something of a laziness in their collaborating but that’s a matter for another day though I will say that I am thankful that the much touted Vega Brothers movie never took place.  It’s tough to say this, because everyone especially Eddie Bunker, Lawrence Tierney and Chris Penn gave excellent performances, but the film is owned by Steve Buscemi.  He’s one of my favourite actors over the past twenty years and his cockroach-like style of survival in Reservoir Dogs is so counter to the instinct of the film it borders on genius.  Not only is his performance amazing but he gives so much to his fellow performers he’s not only the hardest working man in Hollywood but one of the economic on screen.

There are many little issues with Reservoir Dogs but in the grand scheme of things they don’t amount to a whole lot in the cinematic world.  Like him, hate him, love him Quentin Tarantino has taken a relatively by the book film concept and crafted it into something that’s worthy of being called a stunning debut.

4/5 Stars or 80%

Grade: A


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