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Article first published on Static Mass Emporium

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The opening scenes of very few films have remained intact in my memory and Reservoir Dogs definitely falls into that category. A bunch of suit-clad men seated around a table drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes, discussing Madonna and making other pop cultural references? You have my attention. Not only did I find it amusing that seemingly macho men would ever find Madonna’s music worth talking about, but I was sufficiently educated on what her songs really mean. But what really made it stand out was the manner in which it was juxtaposed with what was to follow in the film.

Reservoir Dogs was Quentin Tarantino’s first and arguably best film. Generally considered a caper noir film, it follows the events before and after a diamond heist and has, since its release, gathered a cult following. The reason behind not filming the actual heist was apparently budgetary, although Tarantino says he always liked the idea. I think what came about as a result of this decision was a very human story. An actual heist is a cold, calculated, meticulously planned activity – it should be. But moving away from seeing these criminals in the midst of their professional obligations, and towards their personal interactions and reactions instead, gave it more depth and gave the director much to work with. He also includes flashback biographies of the people involved in the job.

Tarantino’s always written negative characters well. In Reservoir Dogs we see a myriad of these characters, ranging from psychopathic madmen with no allegiance, to empathetic old-timers with a personal code of honour. The film also tells us about the human tendency to bungle the best of plans. And you can tell they put enough thought into keeping their identity, referring to each other by aliases only. But anonymity as a concept can go only so far. Man is still a social animal and criminals need to network too. It highly amused me to see how satisfied everyone was with the proposed plan of anonymity, not considering that some may be in the inner circle.

On the subject of negative characterisation, Michael Madsen is a treat for the eyes and the ears. His cold, devil may care, menacing demeanour is as much his strength as it is his weakness, and for once I enjoyed watching a criminal who would rather die than have to compromise. Whether that’s stubborn or stupid is irrelevant. One of the best scenes of the film was the torture scene, played out to the Stealers Wheel song Stuck In The Middle With You. I was caught between cringing at the bloody torture and singing along, something many of us will probably battle with for the entirety of the film.

The use of music in the film is now what we consider typical to Tarantino. The soundtrack brings to mind that of Pulp Fiction (1994), melodious and ironic. He uses the Sounds Of The Seventies as the backdrop for the film. As such Tarantino’s films are peppered with pop cultural references as well as an oddly astute social commentary on the times. Indeed, Reservoir Dogs is at its roots an action film, but the power of dialogue can’t go unnoticed. Through the interactions of the characters, we gain insight into the world as viewed by white criminals, as they make homophobic remarks and constantly strive to steer away from black criminal behaviour. The dialogue is itself action packed, as we’ve come to expect of Tarantino, and takes over the scenes like the scent of blood takes over a room – pungent and difficult to ignore.

Reservoir Dogs is one of the most remarkable directorial debuts, along with being a film that shows a high pitched, screaming Tim Roth for most of it. It was a springboard for Tarantino’s career, filled with fast paced, witty dialogue, a penchant for bloody horror and a soundtrack that somehow fits the two. It’s a story about human error, misplaced loyalties and their repercussions. It’s a character study of whom society deems characterless.

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6 thoughts on “Reservoir Dogs (1992) : Film Review

  1. I’m a Tarantino fan and have loved pretty much all of his films (wasn’t that impressed with Death Proof). His use of dialogue and soundtrack, as you noted, is what keeps many of us coming back. Tim Roth is a marvellous, and underrated actor I think, just saying 😉

  2. I didn’t really discover Tarantino until Pulp Fiction came out and blew me away. I quickly gobbled up his previous work, and I’ve been a fan ever since.

    I would agree that Death Proof isn’t one of this strongest works, although watching Zoe Bell as a character was a lot of fun. My least liked, though, was Inglourious Basterds, but that’s probably more due to being utterly cold on Nazis and WWII (I do not get the fascination).

    I sometimes thing his finest work as Jackie Brown, a rare occasion of working from an existing work (Rum Punch by the marvelous Elmore Leonard). Each time I see that film, I appreciate it more. There’s a subtlety to the work that I find fascinating. (And I’m a sucker for a good con story.)

    • I had watched Reservoir Dogs before Pulp Fiction because they had a Hindi remake of it here. And while I didn’t see that one (I wasn’t allowed to because I was a child and it had violence and foul language), I asked my mom to give me the gist of it. I then went and got the Tarantino film and watch that instead! (so much for violence and foul language, mom)

      I disliked Inglorious but for different reasons. I actually find WW2 quite fascinating (I loved european history in school). My problem with this film was that he got carried away. I often feel that he indulges himself too much and once you start noticing something like that you can’t stop. Although I really loved Christopher Waltz in that film! He really does his dialogues well, Tarantino. I haven’t watched Jackie Brown yet but I fully intend to now.

      Tarantino does take a lot from other films and directors. Even Reservoir Dogs was inspired by Kubrick’s The Killing to a certain extent. I forgot where I read this but someone had once dubbed him a “cinematic kleptomaniac” which I thought was hilariously apt!

      • That is a great line! “Stealing”, “borrowing from”, “playing homage to”… that’s one of those things that sometimes seems more in the eye of the beholder. There is no question the man loves film and reflects back an enormous catalog of films in his own work.

        Many of his films are explicit homages to genres that have gone before or that only occupy interesting niches. Jackie Brown is an explicit homage to the Blaxploitation films of the 70s. Obviously, so was that Grindhouse work.

        On some level, all art is a remake of something else. The trick is stirring some new flavors into an old stew, and for my money he is brilliant at it.

        I’d love to hear what you found indulgent in IB. I’m always interested in educated views of art; I learn a lot that way. I do think that “renowned artists” can fall into that trap of thinking everything they do is gold. I’ve had that issue with Frank Miller (graphic novel artist), and don’t get me started on that “other” Star Wars trilogy.

        Christoph Waltz is a treat! If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend Carnage with Waltz, Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet and John C. Reilly (directed by Roman Polanski). I liked it so much I watched it twice in a row. I’d missed the first few minutes, kept watching the repeat to see the missed part and couldn’t stop watching the whole thing.

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