Reservoir Dogs

Reservoir Dogs ★★★★★

Reservoir Dogs opens with a group of men sitting around a table eating breakfast in a diner. Mr. Brown, played by Tarantino himself, is passionately rhapsodizing about Madonna's song Like A Virgin. Preaching at the pulpit of pop culture, Tarantino explains the mechanics of what it takes for a woman who has had more dick than a five dollar whore to feel like a virgin reborn.

Dick, dick, dick, dick, dick. What the fuck? When I first saw this as a younger man it struck me immediately. That was me and my friends up there on the screen, talking shit about inconsequential crap. The only difference between us and the characters on the screen being the snazzy black suits. Oh, and the fact that they are a criminal gang about to head out to commit a diamond heist. Otherwise, this felt immediately like a film that had captured something of the stupidity and inanity of my generation and subculture.

Then after a little bit more stupid dialog and some credits (title cards at the beginning signalling his film nerd credentials) I was suddenly startled to find myself in media res, the heist having already gone wrong. In the passenger seat of a speeding car, I looked over to the back seat to see Roth's Mr. Orange writhing in agony, drenched in blood, gut shot and dying. From the driver's seat Keitel's Mr. White reaches back and holds Mr. Orange's hand as he tries to talk him down from his panic and fear.

The sudden transition from trivial conversation to a terrifying existential confrontation with death makes this scene even more shocking and horrifying. And in having reduced the distance between me and the characters with their all too familiar banging on about stupid shit only moments before, Tarantino has somehow disarmed me so that Roth's dance with death feels much more intimate and real. This mix of the quotidian and these profound moments of mortal fear and agony heightens the intensity of these scenes to the extreme.

When Mr. Orange implores Mr. White, "I'm so fucking scared, man. Would you please hold me" and Mr. Orange hunkers down to wrap his arms around him, Tarantino also deconstructs decades of film masculinity. The romanticised deaths of a million tough guys in thousands of classic heist movies from decades past are suddenly undone with this human realism that is so confronting and defies our expectations. Our notions of what is a dignified way for a "real" man to die is undone when we witness the truth of what it looks like to experience a protracted and painful death.

Anyone who accuses Tarantino that he does not have an original bone in his body and that he lazily hangs his hat on pastiche either hasn't seen Reservoir Dogs or is a total fuck knuckle. As described above, Tarantino uses pastiche while at the same time subverting our expectations to interrogate our relationship with film. He challenges us to examine how this relationship has shaped our beliefs, our values and the way we live our lives.

Moving along, from there the movie continues in its dialogue heavy fashion from one memorable scene to another, from cop torture to the "Commode Story". He already shows his interest in the non-conventional narrative that would later explode so innovatively in his next film Pulp Fiction. Flashbacks and non-linear plotting creates curiosity and provides a number of genuine surprises along the way.

His penchant for finding gems amongst the dusty vinyl of bargain bins in second hand record shops is also evident. His use of "Stuck in the Middle with You" during the aforementioned torture scene in particular creates one of those surreal Tarantino experiences that seem so absurd and harrowing all at the same time. All the while, the music somehow washes over the whole thing to give it an inexplicable sense of somehow being "cool". Having "The Coconut Song" playing over the end credits was a fun touch as well, his quirky side being fully expressed by that particular tune.

Tarantino also shows off his knack for letting his actors bring to the screen larger than life characters, each one flawed and brilliant in their own distinct and compelling ways. Keitel has that stillness and repose that gives him a dignified and commanding presence. This plays off in beautiful contrast to Buscemi's Mr. Pink with his ratface features and his skittish, annoying and impulsive incapacity to stand still and shut up for a single moment. Then there is Madsen's Mr. Blonde with his bemused eyebrows and his cold eyes. His psychopathic cruelty in all its indifference and his sheer pleasure in inflicting torment and pain is chilling to the bone.

All of the other actors are awesome as well. Reservoir Dogs is a debut film that comes out with guns blazing. It sets the mould for what makes many of Tarantino's so great. An ensemble of quirky characters, a lot of talking, brutal violence, cool as fuck music, narrative experimentation, and pop culture references up the butt until they tickle your tonsils. This film is great and one of the reasons I feel so lucky to have someone like Tarantino around in the 90s to tap into the cultural zeitgeist of my times, mash it all up and then create something with it as intense and crazy as Reservoir Dogs.

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