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Classic Movie Review: 'Reservoir Dogs' My Summer of Classics

by Sean Patrick 15 days ago in movie
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Quentin Tarentino's debut film is an indisputable classic debut.

It seems hard to believe now, but in the early 1990's Harvey Keitel was having a hard time finding work. While his close friends Martin Scorsese and Robert Deniro were scoring bigger and bigger films, Keitel was turning away stereotypical thug roles that played too much off his legendary character from Mean Streets. Keitel hadn't worked in a couple years when a hyperactive, young, writer-director named Quentin Tarentino accosted him. Tarentino offered Keitel the role of Mr. White in Reservoir Dogs after writing the role with Keitel in mind. What might have happened had he said no? Thankfully we will never know.

In a diner on the outskirts of Los Angeles a group of similarly dressed guys sit around a table and discuss the true meaning behind Madonna's song “Like A Virgin” and the various reasons to tip and not to tip. Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), Mr. Brown (Tarantino), Mr. Orange (Tim Roth), Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) and Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi), have been called together by Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney) to rob a jewelry store of a couple million dollars worth of uncut diamonds.

The rest of the film takes place in the aftermath of the robbery, which we find has gone horribly wrong. It seems Mr. Blonde went on a shooting spree after a store employee set off the alarm. The police arrive quickly, a little too quickly really, and Mr. Brown is killed, as is another member of the crew played by real life thief Eddie Bunker as Mr. Blue. Mr. White and Mr. Orange arrive at the rendezvous point, an abandoned warehouse with Orange bleeding from a gunshot wound in the stomach. Soon Mr. Pink arrives and is suspicious of how quickly the cops arrived. He suspects someone in the crew is a rat. Flashbacks reveal which of the guys is an undercover cop and explains how each guy came to be a part of this mess.

Of course the plot is merely a context to present some of the most innovative and unique dialogue in film history. A mixture of gangster bravado mixed with pop nostalgia underscored by seventies classics from the likes of Edison Lighthouse and the Difranco Family. And who could ever forget Stealers Wheel? The Stealers song “Stuck In The Middle With You” accompanies the film’s most memorable scene in which Madsen's Mr. Blonde performs unwelcome plastic surgery on a kidnapped LAPD officer.

Reservoir Dogs is part of a universe Tarentino created amongst his first few scripts. In a flashback, Keitel's Mr. White refers to his ex-partner Alabama, a reference to Patricia Arquette's character in True Romance. Also, Michael Madsen's Mr. Blonde (real name Vic Vega) is, according to Tarentino, the brother of John Travolta's Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction. The references to his other scripts is all a part of Tarentino's unique writing style that turns reality inside out, referring to his own films while being fascinated by other people's films. He’s constantly referencing and mimicking the works of John Woo and many other Asian directors.

Reservoir Dogs was the introduction to a brilliant genius, a genius that would come fully to the forefront in Pulp Fiction. And, of course, since Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarentino has become arguably the most talked about, anticipated and beloved director in all of Hollywood with only the likes of Scorsese or Speilberg on his level. That began with Reservoir Dogs and has only grown since Pulp Fiction and Tarentino's subsequent success, after success after success.

Reservoir Dogs may not seem like a movie that is about to change the world but undoubtedly, 30 years later, it most certainly did. Without the success of Reservoir Dogs we may not have had Pulp Fiction and the remarkable films that Tarentino has made since. Reservoir Dogs is the ground from which a legend was built and rebuilt, modernized and evolved. Without intent the film changed the film landscape for decades to come with its blood and guts approach to thriller violence and dedication to colorful characters and even more colorful dialogue.

It's an astonishing movie to look back on as you can see Tarentino's obsessions taking form, his singular style of film language is only beginning to burst forth. Even in the limited environment of this mostly single location shoot, you can see through the use of angle, the spattering of blood, the deft use of music and lighting, the director that Quentin Tarentino was going to become. It's incredible to see the ways Tarentino would take his varying influences from Asian cinema and classic gangster movies and Herschel Gordon Lewis B-movie, drive-in flicks and craft them into his very own unique way of making a movie.

This makes Reservoir Dogs a treasure trove for Tarentino fans. The film is like a map that will take film into the future, with paths shooting off to other lesser imitations of Tarentino's style and paths for those who would take his influence and make something of their own. Most importantly, there is the map to Tarentino's future, directly to Pulp Fiction and all the way to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. It's all there in Reservoir Dogs.

Find more than 20 years worth of my movie reviews at Follow me on Twitter @PodcastSean and listen to me talk about movies on the Everyone's A Critic Movie Review Podcast on your favorite podcast platforms.


About the author

Sean Patrick

Hello, my name is Sean Patrick He/Him, and I am a film critic and podcast host for Everyone's a Critic Movie Review Podcast. I am a voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the group behind the annual Critics Choice Awards.

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