You shoot me in a dream, you better wake up and apologize!
Dir. Quentin Tarantino
Runtime: 99 minutes
Starring: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Chris Penn, Steve Buscemi
It is hard to believe that Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” was a low-budget, independent film when it came out way back in 1992, but that what this crime/drama was. His break-out feature-length film would go onto receive cult status and lay the groundwork for an auteurship which would bring recognizable hallmarks to his future films. Like Alfred Hitchcock had a style and always made cameos, Tarantino too also had themes that would repeat in his films too. He tended to make cameo’s too, his films would feature cool and fun music, there would be interesting and gritty stories which might not always play out in conventional timing, pop culture references, and there would be plenty of violence and strong language to boot – and that’s before future films show any kind of foot fetish.
Despite being a low budget film “Reservoir Dogs” had what we can consider today as a strong line-up of acting talent attached to it. That is partly down to Harvey Keitel’s involvement early on. The story goes that while working in a video shop he gave the script to his friend and future colleague Lawrence Bender, he gave the script to his acting teacher, who gave it to his wife, who gave it to Harvey Keitel, who loved it. He liked it enough to sign up as co-producer which made an easier job finding funding. Instead of the $30,000 Tarantino was going to use, he now had $1.5 million. As well as funding, he paid to set up a casting call set up on New York. At the casting call Tarantino and Bender found Steve Buscemi, Michael Madsen, and Tim Roth. Not a bad line up to start with, these would go on to be the main players in the film and there were just a handful of other space to fill.
The plot of the film is centered on a jewel heist gone wrong. Eight crooks all meet up to pull off the heist, but things go wrong, and they have to flee to a prearranged rendezvous point. The film is clever in that you do not see what most filmmakers would consider to be the main selling point of the film, the heist itself. Countless films before this that were centered on a heist would show the intricacies of planning and performing the heist, but this film differs and that is somewhat left up to the viewers imagination through the intricate dialogue that Tarantino has written. The heist itself is ambiguous, it’s the events at the meet-up place that are the linear real-time events that you need to pay attention to, so its here that the clock ticking really starts ticking. Of course, there would be moments that might be boring for the audience if they are just watching a warehouse and waiting for people to arrive, and it is those down-time moments that Tarantino uses flashbacks to cut up the boredom and show backstory that establishes how the players in the movie get to where they are.
The crooks, mostly going by aliases and wearing similar attire, perform their roles brilliantly. It is Mr White (Keitel), Mr Pink (Buscemi), Mr Orange (Tim Roth), and Mr Blonde (Madsen) who lead the line, and they do a great job. Despite wanting to be cool and calm they cannot be, they fear that they have been set up – but by who? This is a question they put to the brains of the operation Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney) and Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn), it is also a question that Mr Blonde puts to Marvin Nash (Kirk Baltz), a cop he has kidnapped and brutally tortures in a brilliant, created scene which juxtaposes the violence on-screen with the fun and uplifting music of Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle with you”. It is fun seeing the cast play out their roles and there are some great character development arcs, particularly Harvey Keitel’s Mr White who by the end of the film has a heart which can be broken – despite being a gun-toting bad-guy. Not all the players are as lovable mind, as Mr Blonde (Madsen) is an out-and-out psychopath – it is always the quiet ones, eh?!
Fun Fact: Budget was tight. Some of the actors was asked to bring their own clothes in for wardrobe. Famously Chris Penn’s tracksuit is one of those items brought in from home. The black suits were provided for free by a designer, but Buscemi wore his own black jeans instead of the trousers provided, and Madsen wore a jacket and trousers from two different suits.
If you know your film history then you will pick up on similarities between this and other films that Tarantino has since said to have influenced by, “The Killing” (1956), “Kansas City Confidential” (1952), “The Big Combo” (1955), “The Talking of Pelham One Two Three” (1974), and “City on Fire” (1987). Let’s face it though, not everybody has seen them, so Tarantino’s film maybe a stand-alone in this heist-style movie.
I genuinely loved this film and considered it to be a great piece of film making. It shows that despite a small budget, if you have strong writing and creative skills, you can still pull something excellent out of the bag. There is a reason why Empire Magazine considered this as the greatest independent film of all time, and there are other critics who equally lavished praise on it calling it a fantastic cult film, and one of the most important and influential films of the 1990’s. My love for it comes out of it being a no thrills, intelligently written and crafted film, which has a great pool of acting talent that connect with the audience in different ways. It feels like a classic noir but updated with modern themes. It’s a cops and robbers film, but with more blood and guts – where the bad guy, is our guy. The twists and turns that feature in the film are dialogue driven – yes there is some action and certainly some shocking moments, but for me the real shocks came from the narrative. The first time I watched this and heard Mr Orange say that he was a policeman I was shocked, let down by him, and equally wanted to put my head in my hands with what it all meant. He played Mr White right to the end of the film, by which point I started to feel sorry for Mr White… and he was a crook!!!
At 99 minutes this is not a film that will take up your entire evening; if you one of those rare people who have not seen this film, I highly recommend you get your life sorted out. If you have seen it before, then why not sit back and enjoy it all over again. “Reservoir Dogs” is one of my favourites in Tarantino’s collection of films, it marks a milestone in film making and helped to put the writer/director under the spotlight. It is brutal, violent, funny, and intense.