Every now and again, when you start taking on work as a critic, it’s beneficial to remind yourself of what’s good in your chosen medium and why it’s worth defending. It’s why I’ve been playing Half-Life 2 again lately. That’s also the reason why Reservoir Dogs was bumped to the top of my Netflix queue. Well, that, and there’s the fact that my wife hadn’t seen it yet and she’s even more critical of films than I am. If something can get past her radar, it’s pretty damn good. And Reservoir Dogs passed with flying colors.
From right to left: Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen), Mr. Brown (Quentin Tarantino), Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn), Joe (Lawrence Tierney), Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) and Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi)
An independent film darling & cult classic, Reservoir Dogs depicts the events leading up to a jewel heist and its aftermath. LA gangster Joe Cabot and his son, Eddie, have put together a team of six men to intercept a shipment of Israeli diamonds from the shop serving as a way station. The team are all instructed to use aliases, based on colors and picked out by Joe because, as he points out, having four guys fight over who gets to be Mr. Black isn’t a good way to start a caper. Of the six men who undertake the job, Mr. Brown & Mr. Blue are killed, Mr. Orange is mortally wounded but in the care of Mr. White, Mr. Pink stashes the goods and Mr. Blonde abducts a cop. Mr. Pink suspects an informant, but Mr. White’s concern is the survival of Mr. Orange. With Eddie and his father en route to resolve things, Mr. Blonde interested in ‘entertaining’ his guest and any one of them possibly being an undercover cop, the disparate stories are set on a collision course with one another.
“Donny, you are out of your element!”
(Whups, wrong movie.)
This is where it all began for Quentin Tarantino. This was the film in which he demonstrated his skills as both a writer and a director. As a writer, there are certain hallmarks to his work other than the liberal profanity. His dialog tends to weave in and out of itself as much as his storylines do, but never seems to feel unnatural or even overly rehearsed. Despite some of his characters being unashamedly larger than life, they talk the way normal people talk. Both his characterizations and the references to movie pop culture underscore a deep love for all thing cinema but especially for the likes of Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen and other so-called ‘low’ film genres.
This affinity also informs the way in which Tarantino directs. While one might dismiss some of his films as ultra-violent cuss-heavy fodder for the masses, his camera work and shot composition reveals a deeper meaning to his films. Tarantino isn’t really overly concerned over what these characters do, but who they are. Sure, sometimes he can get a little self-indulgent and gratuitous in some of his work (I’m looking at you, Kill Bill vol. 1) but overall, while action and gratuity exist they don’t normally do so for their own sake. Quick cuts during action sequences compared to long, intimate shots of conversations show that this is an artist who’s not only exercising his talent, but also trying to convey a message, even bearing his soul from time to time.
All of these elements are present in Reservoir Dogs, and while it isn’t as quotable a classic as Pulp Fiction, it is an extremely solid work with excellent acting and a great pace. While the story highlights Tarantino’s trademark nonlinearity, it never becomes hard to follow. We come to know most of these men pretty well in the short time we spend with them. Everybody’s flawed and nobody’s heroic, making this a great ensemble work instead of a lead actor with good supporters. Quentin Tarantino tried some things here that, at the time, were pretty new in this realm of cinema, and to this day people are emulating his work.
There’s nobody to whom I can’t recommend this film. Noir fans are going to love this throwback to the days of dime novels with hard-boiled manly figures moving from scene to scene with square jaws and black ties. Film students will find a lot of inspiration in the writing, cinematography and overall directorial sense. Fans of the actors will see them at their prime, working off of one another for extremely natural and well-done scenes. The violence can be visceral at times, and in fact, at the Sundance screening Wes Craven and special effects artist Rick Baker walked out, considering the violence to be unnerving due to its high level of realism. So the only people who won’t be seeing Reservoir Dogs are squeamish folk and those who aren’t fond of people using a lot of cuss words. However they are seriously missing out. As I said, this is the kind of thing I watch just to remind myself of what good film-making is all about and why it’s a delight not only to see good new films but also to rip bad films a superfluous orifice. As a matter of fact, from now on when I talk about this film, I’m going to drop ‘cult’ from its descriptor. Reservoir Dogs is a masterful, singular and balls-out classic.
Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.