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Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #97: Reservoir Dogs

One of the most surprising things about Quentin Tarantino’s debut film Reservoir Dogs (1992) is the fact that it has never been adapted for the stage. They will make a show out of Beauty and the Beast, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and even Spider-Man, but somehow a movie in which most of the action takes place in a warehouse has never made it to Broadway? In any case, this was the movie that announced the arrival of the insatiable film fan that could regurgitate everything he had learned watching movies at the video store into stories filled with sudden bursts of violence, sharp-dressed characters, awesome soundtracks, and crackling dialogue.  

Since this violent piece of American cinema came out at a time when I was still learning basic math in elementary school there was no way I would watch this on the big screen. However as the years went by it became a cult classic, and even a classic of the independent movies genre, and was re-released on special edition DVD for its 10th and later 15th anniversary. I believe it was that second version that came out in a box shaped exactly like a can of gasoline in homage to one of the movie’s most memorable moment. It definitely makes for a great guy movie, but anyone can appreciate the acting, writing, and that soundtrack, which also includes some of the film’s dialogue.

The criminals who inhabit Tarantino’s world may be bad guys under the law, but they are always professional bad guys who like to have conversations like everyone else. Tarantino also wants his characters to look cool, so they wear black and white suits and sunglasses on a sunny day to the tune of Little Green Bag by The George Baker selection. These criminals also have a moral compass of sort since the first ten minutes of the movie has them debating, among other things, whether or not a waitress should get a tip regardless of the quality of her service. Once they arrive at a conclusion, they pay the check, indeed leave a tip, and then proceed to steal diamonds from a jewellery store at gunpoint in broad daylight.

The heist in question is the main action set piece of the story, but it is never seen. Through Tarantino’s signature fractured narrative the viewers see the criminals prepare for their crime, run away from the crime scene after all hell breaks loose, and re-convene at a designated hideout to await further instructions from their boss, Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney). The viewers learn something has gone terribly wrong and people have died, which would make anybody nervous. As a matter of fact, as each criminal makes his way to the designated rendez vous point they each start acting out and begin to point fingers (and their guns) at each other.

Since it seems the police was waiting for them, it only seems logical there is a traitor among them. Yet Joe has taken precautions against such a situation by hiring criminals who have never worked together and assigned them each colourful fake names. There is Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), Mr. Orange (Tim Roth), Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen), Mr. Brown (Quentin Tarantino), and Mr. Blue (reformed criminal Edward Bunker). One of the many flashback scenes shows Joe ceremoniously assigning the names, only for the harden criminals to start complaining and wonder why they can’t pick their own names. Like a stern father Joe says that never works because he always ends up with a room full of grown men arguing over whom gets to be called Mr. Black. It makes sense: you would want to have a cool-sounding name.     

Further flashbacks reveal more of each character’s back-story and personality, such as the professional knowledge of Mr. White when it comes to robberies and the psychopathic tendencies of Mr. Blonde when it comes to interrogations. Eventually the identity of the mole is revealed, and if by some chance you have not seen the movie since 1992, no spoilers here. I will say that on first viewing I definitely didn’t see it coming. That might be because I was distracted by the sight of Michael Madsen slicing a cop’s ear with a razor blade to the tune of Stealers Wheel’s Stuck in the Middle with You. However like the chainsaw scene in Scarface, that scene is actually a lot less violent than it sounds.

The violence in Tarantino’s movies always stands out, but the reason why his movies just keep getting longer is because the man loves to write great dialogue for his actors. A lesser director might have chosen to shoot the violent robbery in spite of the low budget, but with Tarantino instead you get characters discussing the meaning of Madonna’s Like a Virgin, the work of Pam Grier, and how one character looks like The Thing from the Fantastic Four comic books. This may not be Shakespeare-level writing, but I would pay to see it performed live on stage.  


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