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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Reservoir Dogs

Title: Reservoir Dogs

Year of Release: 1992

Date Viewed: February 4th, 2011

MPAA Rating: R

Some of my blog subscribers already know this, but I'd like to confess something to the rest of the world that will probably hurt my credibility. I am not a fan of Quentin Tarantino's work.

It's not that I have anything against the guy personally. In fact, we actually have a lot in common. Our youth was largely spent browsing through video rental shelves for obscure films before becoming the geekiest video store employees at our respective neighborhoods. We share many of the same tastes in entertainment, namely martial arts flicks, senseless violence and Three Stooges routines. Movies rule our lives and without them we would have no identity. Yet I have such a difficult time immersing myself into the work of an Academy Award winner who is practically a peer, seemingly for the same reasons that he is so beloved by his cult fanbase.

Like I stated before in the introductory post, my movie opinions often go against the grain, but I'm not ashamed of that. Independent critical thinking can sometimes get lost when surrounded by self-righteous know-it-alls. They're everywhere on and off the net. So my thoughts regarding Tarantino are not meant to be provocative. (I'm looking at you, Armond White.) Rather it's simply an exercise in brutal honesty. As the saying goes: It's better to be trusted than to be liked.

Tarantino has earned my respect for having a successful self-made career in ultra competitive Hollywood. I say this now because many future comments regarding his projects will be negative. And again, it's not because I'm out to get him. I'll continue to give him chances for as long as he's willing to make movies.

Now that we've got that out of the way, on to the review of his feature-length directorial debut: Reservoir Dogs.

Six strangers are recruited by a mob boss (Lawrence Tierney) to conduct a most meticulous heist at a diamond warehouse. The plan is set up perfectly, but the result is far from it. The loot is successfully stolen, but the police are hot on their trail. What was intended as a slick getaway has turned into a paranoid investigation for a possible traitor within their ranks. Or perhaps the boss had set them up from the beginning.

The group retreats to their warehouse rendezvous point to attempt rationalization and tend to their comrade Mister Orange (Tim Roth) who had been shot during the getaway. The name is color-themed just like all the others in this story. Alter-egos to cover real identities. The less personal information that could be shared between them, the less likely they are to grow close and compromise the mission. Uncovering the perpetrator (if he even exists) could be the robbers only chance of escaping prison or death.

I'll give Tarantino this. Sometimes he really knows how to set up a scene. And he may be one of the very best at depending on imagination for ultimate impact, strongly supported at the film's conclusion. He doesn't even bother to show the actual heist. All the drama unfolds in the aftermath within the gritty interior of the warehouse. The characters don't know what to make of the situation. And neither do we because we haven't witnessed it. Bringing this much anticipation into who will walk through the door and why takes brilliance. The most pivotal events occur within the filthy warehouse. With contention behind limited locations, Tarantino almost can claim to have reinvented the action genre. It feels fast-moving without actually going anywhere.

Everything else truly doesn't go anywhere. There are scenes outside of the warehouse, most of them designed to elaborate on characters. For whatever reason, these end up far less interesting. Whereas the warehouse events never stop pushing the plot forward; the background scenes stop it dead in its tracks. It's like two writers were trying to tell the same story and the scripts were pasted together without revisions. I guess I should have expected this. Tarantino is known to abruptly change tone whenever he feels like it. His inconsistency irritates me to no end. Take the opening scene for example. The characters are having breakfast together in a restaurant shortly before the big heist. After a rather random conversation, it concludes with a popular quoted speech by Mister Pink (Steve Buscemi) explaining his belief that servers shouldn't be tipped. Although amusing, the speech doesn't serve any later relevance nor does it help him stand out amongst his comrades. The robbers are all crazy enough to do anything that it makes neglecting dining customs small fry. Maybe Tarantino had a newspaper column he wanted to publish but couldn't find anywhere else to place it. I'm amazed at how half-convincing the speech was.

A few standout moments have helped Reservoir Dogs stay memorable. The friend that showed me this movie claims to have difficulty listening to Stealers Wheel's "Stuck in the Middle With You" without thinking of Mister Blonde's (Michael Madsen) sadistic torture. I will remember it simply for the great ideas that were brought to a very small table. Some story arcs were given a little too much attention while others were begging for more. I'm left undecided over whether the movie went too far or hadn't gone far enough.

Rating: 4


  1. Hi Ian.
    I'm a first time visitor to your blog and I find your writing very refreshing.
    It's rare to find somebody in the movie blogging world who goes against the grain as eloquently as you do and don't worry about your comments about Mr Tarantino, for me they enhance rather than hurt your credibility.
    As regards memories of Reservoir Dogs I'm with your friend on this one, Stuck In The Middle With You reminds me of Michael Madsen every time I hear it.
    Good luck with your blog in the future.