Reservoir Dogs (1992)
“Every dog has his day.”
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen
Synopsis: After a simple jewelery heist goes terribly wrong, the surviving criminals begin to suspect that one of them is a police informant.
‘Are we cool?’
‘We are cool.’
It’s an exchange from the movie, but you can imagine Quentin Tarantino asking himself that question after every writing session of its screenplay and coming back with that answer. We are cool. That seems to be Tarantino’s over-riding pre-occupation when he takes his audience into the working life of a bunch of career criminals as they prepare for a heist and then deal with the aftermath when things go horribly wrong.
Reservoir Dogs is a movie for the boys, with little consideration given to potential female members of the audience. In fact there are only two women in the entire picture; one of them is dragged by her hair through the window of her car, and the other is shot in the chest. Women are disposable in Tarantino’s world. Of course, he’d change all that later in his career with Kill Bill, which saw Uma Thurman become a sort of honorary man, capable of killing a small army of killers dressed just like the guys in Dogs. It always seemed odd that a group of professional criminals would dress in an identical way which would make them instantly recognisable to pursuing cops. But so what? If Tarantino had them dressed in tee-shirts and jeans their coolness quotient would plummet to zero. And Tarantino is very pre-occupied with cool. Anything from someone else’s movie that he considers to be cool inevitably finds its way into one of his movies sooner or later.
The movie doesn’t show the heist, jumping instead from a pre-heist meal in a nearby diner, during which Tarantino famously holds forth on the true meaning of Madonna’s hit song Like a Virgin, to the bloody aftermath which sees Mr White (Harvey Keitel) driving a gut-shot Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) back to the rendezvous. All the men have fake names, awarded to them by Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney), the man behind the plan to rob a diamond warehouse, so that they’re unable to finger one another if they’re caught by the police. Orange is in a bad way. His shirt gets redder throughout the movie until, by the end, it’s entirely red. There’s a lot of blood in Reservoir Dogs. A lot of blood.
Back at the deserted warehouse that is the pre-arranged post-heist rendezvous, they’re joined by Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) and a dissection of exactly what went wrong begins. This sequence, in which Keitel and Buscemi play off one another superbly, is probably the best of the movie. It quickly becomes apparent that one of the gang must have been in league with the cops who swarmed all over the location of the heist almost as soon as it was underway.
Tarantino’s film then jumps back and forth in time as it shows the recruitment of the key characters into the heist scheme by Cabot. Quite what these scenes establish isn’t really clear, other than padding out the running time. We learn little of worth from them, other than there is some kind of homo-erotic undercurrent going on between the psychopathic Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) and Joe’s son Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn).
Reservoir Dogs is an exercise in excess by a nascent talent that never really followed up on its early promise. Tarantino seems so mired in the world of movies that he’s incapable of devising a storyline or scene that doesn’t in some way reference another filmmaker’s work. The excess of Reservoir Dogs is indulged in with style and panache, and Tarantino’s dialogue is tight and concise when he is focusing on plot development, and insightful when colouring the characters. But the relentlessness of the violence leaves you feeling drained rather than entertained by the time of the last gangster’s bloody demise.
(Reviewed 10th August 2012)