Skip to main content

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.  


Popular posts from this blog

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #70: Stand by Me

Another clear influence on Stranger Things, Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me (1986) portrays American kids from a lost era in which they could go on an adventure away from home. Nowadays if children go missing for more than an hour parents try to locate them using cell phone apps, but in the story written by Stephen King four boys in 1959 Oregon go walking in the woods during a long weekend to look for, of all things, a dead body. Their lives are sometimes at risk, they have no way of communicating with their parents, but they will definitely have a story to remember for the rest of their lives.
For many North Americans adults this movie fondly reminded them of a time in their childhood despite the inherent danger. Not so for me since, first of all, there was no time in my childhood when I could possibly go out of the house for more than three hours without my mom getting in her car to go look for me. The there is the fact that I spent a good chunk of my childhood living in Chile and Peru, an…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #316: Trainspotting

In the 1990s Hollywood directors were the kings of cinema, whether it was for big summer blockbusters or smaller independent films. Guys like James Cameron or Michael Bay would blow up the screens while Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino put the emphasis on snappy dialogue that created relatable characters for the moviegoers. Then in 1996, as if to scream “we can do this too,” Danny Boyle released Trainspotting in the United Kingdom.
Based on a novel by Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh, the movie took the world by storm despite having no explosions, a cast of actors who were relatively unknown and a budget that today could barely pay for the catering of a Transformers movie. Furthermore this is not the story of young people going to college to enter a life full of promise, but about young heroine addicts meandering through the streets of Edinburgh. Despite introducing these characters during an energetic montage set to Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life, Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge in …

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #364: Natural Born Killers

Natural Born Killers (1994) is not so much a movie as an American nightmare come to life. Loosely based on a story by Quentin Tarantino, starring some of the wildest actors in Hollywood at the time, and boasting a level of violence that unfortunately inspired copycat crimes, it is the textbook definition of controversial. In all fairness there are important messages amidst all the violent mayhem, but director Oliver Stone throws so much content at the screen that these messages can sometimes get lost in the carnage.
Even though the movie came out more than two decades ago it still has a legendary status, which I learned about while reading a chapter in a book about Tarantino’s career. The book, Quintessential Tarantino, contained a lot of interesting facts about the making of the movie and also spoiled the ending, but reading a few words that describe a killing spree is very different than seeing it portrayed on screen. A few years ago the director’s cut became available on Netflix, wh…