In 1991 a former video store clerk and film aficionado named Quentin Tarantino made a feature film for 1.5 million dollars called Reservoir Dogs about a diamond heist gone wrong. In 1992 Reservoir Dogs premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and the world of cinema changed forever as a bold new artist took his place at the forefront of a brand new generation of young filmmakers who were determined to make their voices be heard.
When a simple jewellery heist goes horribly wrong, the surviving criminals begin to suspect that one of them is a police informant.
When you start with the life and career of Quentin Tarantino it all begins with Reservoir Dogs. A high-concept dialogue-driven crime noir film that shook audiences up with its completely raw approach to the cinematic art form. Whenever you first watch Reservoir Dogs, you are completely struck by its originality and style. From the opening moments of its diner scene monologue to the ferocious violence that is unleashed to its shocking Mexican standoff ending, Reservoir Dogs hits its audience like a freight train. And damn is it a rush. You never know what’s going to happen next with Reservoir Dogs, and no matter how many times you manage to watch it this is a film that continues to stay fresh with each new showing.
What this film also does was showcase a filmmaker in Tarantino who was just beginning to find his voice as an artist. And in doing this it would showcase many of the director’s trademark filmmaking troupes and techniques. One such thing was dialogue. That is that Reservoir Dogs is a film that tells it’s entire narrative, save for a few key action moments, entirely through its dialogue between a cast of very different and unique characters. While we never see the diamond heist that is its integral key event up close, but rather we hear about it second hand, and how the stories’ key characters reacted to it. There are plenty of memorable moments here, and plenty of memorable lines, my favourite being Michael Madsen’s quote as the psychopathic Mr. Blonde “are you gonna bark all day little doggie….or are you going to bite.” It’s quotes like these that really hit you as an audience member and they definitely stay with you.
Through Reservoir Dogs we were introduced to Tarantino’s much-used plot device of violence to drive his stories, a subject that has drawn plenty of criticism and protest over the years. And no matter what you might think about the subject, you’ve gotta believe that it works. While Reservoir Dogs does feature a handy amount of gun violence and shoot’em up scenes, which is handled in the coolest way possible, it’s the infamous ‘ear cutting’ scene which continues to live in infamy. Ferociously savage, this act of carnage is hidden from view and we only see the end result after it. But none-the-less it’s still frighteningly scary and is one of the many moments of this film that stays with you.
Part of the key to Reservoir Dogs success comes down to its amazing cast consisting of Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth, Steve Buscemi, Eddie Bunker, Chris Penn and Lawrence Tierney, along with Tarantino’s own cameo performance as well. All of them portray a collection of very different characters with Keitel as the gruff Mr. White, Madsen as the psychopathic Mr. Blonde, Roth as the untested (and undercover cop) Mr. Orange, Steve Buscemi as the snarky Mr. Pink, Chris Penn as wrangler “Nice Guy” Eddie Cabot and Lawrence Tierney as bruising crime boss Joe Cabot. They were a cast that completely worked and watching them perform you absolutely brought into their characters and their actions throughout the film.
On the part of Tarantino, Reservoir Dogs was also a film that was built on complete slick style and it really paid off here. From his use of classic 1970s music to slow motion, slick black suits, ties and sunglasses, to his use of cinematography that included the famed ‘trunk shot’ and the defining Mexican stand-off, Reservoir Dogs is packed out with plenty of cool moments. Anyone and everyone who watches this film wants to suit up in a black suit and tie, and stroll down an alleyway to the George Baker Selection’s ‘Little Green Bag’. Tarantino really made the statement that movies were supposed to be cool, and it was a motive that the director has continued long through the remainder of his film career.
Reservoir Dogs is a film that is completely fed by passion and it really shows up on the screen. It’s the product of a filmmaker who is in love with his craft and the art and relevance of movies in general. Twenty-seven years later Reservoir Dogs is still celebrated as the greatest ever independent film ever made, and for anyone starting out in their Tarantino journey, it’s the perfect place to start.