Reservoir Dogs

Reservoir Dogs ★★★★½

Iconic cool set to a 1970s beat, Quentin Tarantino's blood and profanity-soaked debut feature leaves a searing calling card for the filmmaker. A non-linear opus of criminal machinations, machine-gun dialogue, and sharp-dressed swagger, the crime drama is at once a comedy of felonious manners and an opera, belting arias about the honor of thieves. It is a rough, raw, and enthralling piece of work.

Tarantino's film follows a troupe of skinny-tie and jacket clad criminals who have pooled their talents for a diamond heist. Within the group may or may not be a mole, and, by the end of the day, the group may or may not be dead.

It is a rather straightforward premise and story, but Tarantino has no pretension about playing anything straight. Instead, he creates a drama that twists about, rarely following a path that does not surge forward before doubling back on itself. Moreover, he goes to great lengths to build and expose characters through torrents of dialogue, stolen glances, and bristling bursts of violence.

These characters create a compelling den of thieves. They are stylized and slick, born from Tarantino's pop-culture and B-movie infected imagination. Spouting electric and robust diatribes about pop hits, women and men, and, ultimately, the criminal act with which they are tasked, the gang is alternately painted in racist, perhaps misogynist, over-the-top, and sometimes human colors.

As director, Tarantino is much more assured than he has any right to be in the infancy of his career as an auteur. His set-ups are spare yet rich, unrefined yet confident. His cameras quietly stalk and surround the tight spaces of his sets, while, alternately, they stand behind and watch the larger scale dealings of his characters and plot. All of this is infused with volcanic energy dictated by 1970s tunes, potent wordplay, and juxtapositions of cotton whites, silken blacks, and spilt-blood reds.

The cast is as stirring as the rest of Tarantino's creation. Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, Chris Penn, Tim Roth, Steve Buscemi, and Tarantino himself cut compelling figures. Their characters may, by and large, lack a genuine sense of humanity, but they are compelling neo-gangland caricatures bathed in sleek style. At the film's core, Keitel and Roth shrug off the overwrought noise of the film's dialogue and its incessant pop pop pop to settle as the film's thematic and authentic anchors. Their characters are mindful men, trapped by choices and acts; and, if there is one, they form the film's soul.

Knowing what an audience now knows about Quentin Tarantino, "Reservoir Dogs" may lack the snap it had when the director and his career were fresh-faced entities. There is no doubting, however, the withering spark of the film's story, storytelling, and storytellers whether viewing the film with jaded or jazzed eyes. "Reservoir Dogs," then, is a blistering and thrilling film whose power is derived both from its colorful surface and classic center.

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