Danny Westhorpe, 23, Newcastle Upon Tyne.

• Film Reviews » Reservoir Dogs

“Every "dog" has its day.”

When Reservoir Dogs first hit screens in 1992, Quentin Tarantino was really just another face in the crowd. He wasn’t the Hollywood directing force he is today and certainly couldn’t attract the star names that litter so many successful, American films. Reservoir Dogs changed that. In the years that followed he quickly established himself as both an innovative and skilled director whose unique abilities allowed him to craft films like very few others.

With critically acclaimed and successful movies under his belt including Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill and Inglorious Basterds, Tarantino has gone from indie master to box-office draw in several short years. But it’s his first film, starring that infamous bunch of ramblers, which ranks as his greatest hit to date and the film that all other low-budget thrillers will constantly be measured against.

The plot plays out like a typical “whodunnit” scenario. In the aftermath of a failed jewellery heist, the professional criminals who are still breathing are trying to piece together just what went wrong, who set them up and most importantly, what to do now. Taking place primarily in one location, an old rendezvous warehouse, the movie is a real time reflective of the previously mentioned aftermath. Flashbacks are shown occasionally, helping the viewer put together the events that led to the present. As tensions run high and time grows shorter, “the dogs” begin to turn on each other and it becomes clear, not everyone or everything is how it seems.

In a master-stroke by Tarantino, the characters are given coloured codenames for protection and anonymity. That simple act alone adds another level of tension to the film, with Mr. White and Mr. Brown sounding much more secretive than Charlie and Richard. The aliases have become almost legendary over the years and although Tarantino probably wasn’t the first to employ the tactic, he certainly brought it to the public’s attention.

The casting is the stand-out attraction with everyone putting in A grade performances from start to finish.
The now infamous ear cutting scene generated plenty of controversy for it's stylish use of gory, realistic violence.

As far as casting goes, while all areas of Reservoir Dogs glow, it’s the cast that make the movie the superb suspenseful thriller it is. The dogs are made up of Harvey Keitel (Mr. White), Tim Roth (Mr. Orange), Michael Madsen (Mr. Blonde), Steve Buscemi (Mr. Pink), Eddie Bunker (Mr. Blue) and Tarantino himself as Mr. Brown. Pretty much completing the cast are Lawrence Tierney as Joe, the boss behind the heist and his son, Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn). Keitel, Roth and Madsen get the bulk of the screen time and serve as a great threesome, with great tension and chemistry during all of their scenes. The three play completely different characters, but get them down to a tee for the entire ninety-nine minutes of runtime. Keitel is superb as the seen it all, done it all criminal, while Roth is similarly sublime as the new kid on the block. As for Madsen, very few actors can pull of the cool and charismatic psycho as well as he can.

As already stated, the majority of the “action” takes place in a large warehouse and consists mainly of dialogue and body-language more-so than the usual gun play that make up most thrillers. Shooting on a small budget limited Tarantino's script, and because of this the heist itself isn't shown. Instead the film is dialogue-driven from start to finish in a move that Tarantino would later become infamous for. At no point though, does the movie ever feel flat or slow. Quentin has a way with words that make them jump of the page and throw themselves straight down the viewers throat. It's a technique that makes for some great back and forth conversation, and allows the actors to really express the characters their portraying.

There's a single scene that really defines Reservoir Dogs – the opening one, which is probably the most important part of any film. Introducing characters can be a frustrating and annoying cliché for directors, but Tarantino has worked wonders here to create one of the most enjoyable scenes in the whole film. Set in a diner, the six dogs, Joe and Eddie are eating breakfast.

The plan is laid out for the viewer and the colour coded names are assigned. But it's the conversational dialogue that really makes this scene special. The discussions are frank and colloquial, yet captivating at the same time. The topics range from the true meaning of Madonna's 1984 hit, Like A Virgin, to the etiquette of tipping a waitress. In the hands of another director, the scene could easily have become mundane quite quickly. But here you soon realise that it's eight psychopaths talking about random things that you actually kind of agree with. Other scenes jump out here and there, the now instantly recognisable “ear” scene for example, or the Mexican stand-off towards the end of the movie. But it's the first scene that really sets the tone of the film, because it relies so heavily on the superb dialogue and very little else. While the action and plot come into play later in the film, the dialogue remains the focal point and the films strongest area.

Musically the film is a real treat for the ears with three great songs from the early seventies featuring prominently. “Little Green Bag” by George Baker accompanies a slow motion walking montage and really helps show the crew as cool, professional and hardened people. “Stuck In The Middle With You” by Stealers Wheel accompanies “that” ear scene and adds a delightful change of pace and tone to an otherwise fairly harrowing section of the film. Finally "Coconut" by Harry Nilsson hits as the credits role and the complete contrast from the events just witnessed leaves the viewer pondering and reflecting on what has just took place and the exact meaning the movie was putting across.

While the dialogue is great throughout the entire movie, it hits its peak early in the opening diner scene.
"Larry, there's no need for this man. Let's all just put our guns down and settle this with a fucking conversation."

Reservoir Dogs isn't perfect, but it's not far off. The violence and strong language won't be to everyone's taste. If we can once again refer to the ear-cutting scene, several people walked out of the movies original showing claiming it to be too difficult to watch. Madsen himself had trouble filming the scene, which in itself claims just how graphic it actually is.

Other people may have criticisms about the pace of the plot. While most consider the dialogue to be witty, sharp and intelligent, it could be argued that the constant, trivial conversations get in the way of plot development and slow it down to an almost standstill. Most though should recognise the talent on show and appreciate the fact that while a lot of the movie is all talk and little action, the talk really is extremely complex and thoughtful, and can be considered as plot-development in its own right.

Tarantino's later films flourished because of Reservoir Dogs. Studios quickly realised that the director had talent, flare and originality and that with a decent budget, he could create something truly spectacular. This was proven with his next movie, Pulp Fiction, which shares a number of similarities with Reservoir Dogs, just on a larger scale. The stylistic visionary has yet to produce a bad film, and all of his triumphs are well worth viewing in their own right. But if you want to see him at his best, working with limited resources and relying on his natural talent, Reservoir Dogs is the perfect example and proof that you don't need a huge budget to create a terrific, well-woven and smart film.

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