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The 29-year-old Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 debut movie proved his spectacular breakthrough. With no holds barred, a new star writer-director, what the French call an auteur, was born. Reservoir Dogs is a semi-deranged, obscenely witty thriller set in the aftermath of what should have been a simple jewellery heist that’s gone badly wrong. It’s terrifyingly ferocious and dazzlingly made by Tarantino.
Lawrence Tierney plays crime boss Joe Cabot, who hires six criminals, previously strangers to each other, to carry out a diamond robbery. But the police show up and one of the gang is killed in the subsequent mayhem of a shootout.
Mr White (Harvey Keitel) and Mr Orange (Tim Roth) escape from the cops to the arranged warehouse rendezvous, but Mr Orange is bleeding to death from a bullet in the stomach. As they await the arrival of the rest of the gang, Mr Blonde (Michael Madsen), Mr Blue (Eddie Bunker), Mr Brown (Quentin Tarantino) and Mr Pink (Steve Buscemi), not knowing what’s happened to any of them, the details about their lives and the robbery gradually unfold.
It isn’t long before Messrs White and Orange find out who’s been killed and before the surviving criminals begin to suspect that one of them is an undercover cop.
Brilliant, yes, though Tarantino’s movie is now famously one of astonishing sadism and violence, taking them to a new level. The violence reaches a hell-on-earth, stomach-churning dimension which may make some viewers cover their eyes, while others may watch admiringly.
In particular, there is a disgusting, terrifying torture sequence as Madsen’s Mr Blonde cuts off a cop hostage’s ear and douses him with petrol just for fun, and a climactic bloodletting shootout that is somehow both thrilling and risible at the same time.
It could easily be stage play, because it is basically more or less all set in the one place, no doubt for low-budget economy. But Tarantino makes it extremely cinematic by his freewheeling style through time and place to give the audience all the clues it needs.
There’s no doubt that it’s extraordinarily confident and clever, and can easily take in its stride lurches from cynical black comedy to sudden death, from harsh realism to stylish cinema tricks.
There are a bunch of great performances too, particularly from Keitel, Roth and Tierney as the mob boss and Chris Penn as his son Nice Guy Eddie, and you really do believe in the casual evil of these people. But Madsen and Buscemi are very effective too, in iconic performances. These are a bunch of nuttily scary guys, alright!
The story and filming allegedly show similarities to Ringo Lam’s earlier work, City on Fire (1987). And Stanley Kubrick’s 1956 The Killing is another obvious influence. Tarantino’s very much a film buff and it shows big time in Reservoir Dogs, as in most of his movies.
© Derek Winnert 2013 Classic Movie Review 361
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