Former video store clerk Quentin Tarantino's directorial debut, RESERVOIR DOGS, is a brutally funny, supercharged introduction to his supremely distinct cinematic vision, which was later to become one of the most mimicked styles of the 1990s. Mastermind Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney) assembles a crew of top-notch criminals to pull off a jewelry store heist. As the film opens it becomes immediately clear that the plan backfired, forcing the survivors, who have gathered at an abandoned warehouse, to figure out if one of them is, in fact, a police informer.
The crew Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), an aged veteran; Mr. Orange (Tim Roth), a wounded newcomer; Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen), a psychopathic parolee; Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi), a bickering weasel; and Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn), Joe's son begin to unravel as the pressure becomes too much for them to handle. When Joe arrives, the truth becomes clear in a vicious Mexican standoff.Tarantino takes liberally from Hong Kong action flicks, most notably Ringo Lam's CITY ON FIRE, but his ultra-hip '70s soundtrack and hysterical pop culture dialogue make the film seem wholly original and new. Taking a cue from the French New Wave most notably Jean-Luc Godard RESERVOIR DOGS remains one of the decade's most influential motion pictures.
Quentin Tarantino came out of nowhere (i.e., a video store in Manhattan Beach, California) and turned Hollywood on its ear in 1992 with his explosive first feature, Reservoir Dogs
. Like Tarantino's mainstream breakthrough Pulp Fiction
, Reservoir Dogs
has an unconventional structure, cleverly shuffling back and forth in time to reveal details about the characters, experienced criminals who know next to nothing about each other. Joe (Lawrence Tierney) has assembled them to pull off a simple heist, and has gruffly assigned them color-coded aliases (Mr. Orange, Mr. Pink, Mr. White) to conceal their identities from being known even to each other. But something has gone wrong, and the plan has blown up in their faces. One by one, the surviving robbers find their way back to their prearranged warehouse hideout. There, they try to piece together the chronology of this bloody fiasco--and to identify the traitor among them who tipped off the police. Pressure mounts, blood flows, accusations and bullets fly. In the combustible atmosphere these men are forced to confront life-and-death questions of trust, loyalty, professionalism, deception, and betrayal. As many critics have observed, it is a movie about "honor among thieves" (just as Pulp Fiction
is about redemption, and Jackie Brown
is about survival). Along with everything else, the movie provides a showcase for a terrific ensemble of actors: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Steve Buscemi, Michael Madsen, Christopher Penn, and Tarantino himself, offering a fervent dissection of Madonna's "Like a Virgin" over breakfast. Reservoir Dogs
is violent (though the violence is implied rather than explicit), clever, gabby, harrowing, funny, suspenseful, and even--in the end--unexpectedly moving. (Don't forget that "Super Sounds of the Seventies" soundtrack, either.) Reservoir Dogs
deserves just as much acclaim and attention as its follow-up, Pulp Fiction
, would receive two years later. --Jim Emerson