Music Supervisor: Karyn Rachtman Cinematography: Andrzej Sekula
Starring: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and Steve Buscemi
Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained are so absolutely brilliant in conception, execution, and impact, that it’s as if they’re from a different director. So where does that leave a film like Reservoir Dogs? Hailed upon its release as something startlingly new and different, it definitely was that. Seen in the context of his last two films, however, it now looks like the solid product of a fledgling director with a bold vision but lacking the experience to make it something more.
The thing to know about Tarantino’s first film is that it’s not really about the plot. It’s all about character. The majority of the action takes place in an empty warehouse/garage in L.A. among the participants of a failed robbery attempt. Now Reservoir Dogs, like it’s more polished follow-up, Pulp Fiction, has plenty of unrealistic things about it. But the most blatant in the former film is the opening scene around a diner table at breakfast before the heist. Not only are these guys sitting around the coffee shop shooting the bull at breakfast, the majority of them are wearing suits and ties like something out of the early sixties. And, of course, that’s the point.
Character, in this film, is not about the costumes, nor is it about the set, which for the vast majority of the film is a nearly empty warehouse. All that Tarantino has to work with, then, is character. In retrospect, it’s a brilliant way to go for a first film. No location work, no extras, no wardrobe, just half a dozen great actors on a sound stage, trying to help him wring the most out of his script. The story begins after the failed robbery attempt but, unlike the completely disjointed time of Pulp Fiction, everything before the robbery is shown in a series of flashbacks. Tarantino is unafraid of long takes, with interesting setups. The long takes add to the tension inherent in the situation and are not overused.
In the end, as has been the case with all of Tarantino’s films, the genius is in the script. A two-time Academy Award winner, both of Tarantino’s statuettes have been for his screenplays, the first for Pulp Fiction and, most recently, for Django Unchained. The interplay between the characters, especially the tension surrounding the possibility of an informant in their midst, is finally the real draw of the film. Tarantino also throws in a couple of nice twists. While the film certainly isn’t up to the quality of his last two masterpieces, it does have all the elements that he would come to master over the last twenty years and that made him the brilliant director he is today.
In his review of the film for The B List, critic Jami Bernard sort of misses the point. He, of course, emphasizes Tarantino’s love of film, especially B movies and exploitation films, but then makes stupid statements like a crew that doesn’t know each other can’t perform a successful heist. Hell, they do it twice in The Thomas Crown Affair. In the end, as if attempting to mimic Tarantino’s hipness, he’s just a little too glib to accurately articulate just why the film is so good and so it’s left unclear. And quite unlike Reservoir Dogs itself, one leaves the review not knowing why it was in the book in the first place.