Quentin Tarantino has become such a huge director since his initial debut with “Reservoir Dogs” in 1992, immediately afterwards in 1994 he went on to make “Pulp Fiction” which is in my top three films of all time (so far). Everything this guy releases seems to be astounding, he’s someone you can practically guarantee to put out something worth watching, and you never feel he’ll let you down if you get excited for one of his films. Perhaps it’s good then that his only sub-par film came when no one knew his name. “Reservoir Dogs” holds so many Tarantinian elements that just don’t work in this film, but they are traits and signatures that Tarantino has since come to exquisitely perfect.
There has been a botched robbery and eight criminals are forced to pick up the pieces after the cops come on their tail. Three of them retreat back to their safe house as they begin to suspect that there is a rat among them, but one of their own has been seriously wounded. The important characters have their back stories fleshed out to give us insight into their motives, though we don’t know many of their names.
“Reservoir Dogs” is undeniably stylish in its presentation, the music Tarantino selects is brilliant. He doesn’t use an orchestra, Tarantino uses iTunes and he could put John Williams out of a job doing so. What Tarantino has in style he loses in his characters. Mr Blonde (Michael Madsen) is a calm and composed sadist, but that’s it. Mr Pink (Steve Buscemi) is a lover of conflicting opinions and nitpicking, but that’s it. Mr White (Harvey Keitel) is a seemingly soft yet harsh patriarchal figure of the group, but that’s it. Mr Orange (Tim Roth) is the only character that I felt actually had any depth to him, and this is somewhat squandered as well due to his spending most of the film with a hole in his gut that leaves him unconscious. They all have their motives, but a motive is no good if we don’t have sufficient understanding of why. Or at least, if you are going to take this approach, it’s going to need a little more than we see here.
If acting alone could make a movie, we’d have a great movie. All of the main cast are really brilliant in their respective roles. The side characters are also very good. Quentin Tarantino himself takes up a minor role as Mr Brown and he does show us his talent in front of the camera as well as behind it. There are roles that he could really nail, like he did as one of the Gecko brothers in “From Dusk Till Dawn”.
The biggest shame is that it’s obvious that Tarantino has talent in this film, he just hasn’t tapped into it. He still breaks one of the rules of screenplay writing which is something along the lines of — get into a scene as fast as you can, and then get out of it as fast as you can — this isn’t for Tarantino. He revels in letting the conversation flow, to have the characters develop amongst themselves without the need for narration or exposition. Characters interact and by doing so develop or craft the narrative in just a superb way. It’s something he is known for but hasn’t succeeded with in this film. His characters say a whole lot of something about nothing. It doesn’t create depth, most of the dialogue is just conversation that is mildly interesting and delivered with nice fluidity. In “Pulp Fiction” the characters said a whole lot of nothing about something. Remember when Jules Winfield and Vince Vega have that exchange about burgers in France? Remember how that led onto a whole extended piece of dialogue that outlined what each character was like and also revealing things about other characters that may or may not be true which in turn created intrigue. In that film, dialogue is just masterful in it’s subtle twists and turns, it’s like a road with a sign pointing to a scrapyard that instead takes you to the land of Oz. They never really stop talking in “Reservoir Dogs”, which is why this is such a significant flaw.
The film mostly takes place in one building, and usually in one room. Everything feels very caged and also at the same time so close to the outside world. It makes you question how close to you right now a crime is being committed. For example, a stand out scene where Mr Blonde wanders out from the safe house in which he is torturing a man, he goes out to his car to get some equipment. When he leaves the building the music disappears and the sounds of children playing can be heard, when wandering back in the blasting music resumes. It’s just another scene that shows how smart and visionary Tarantino could have been (and now is), perhaps the lack of scope within the movie is one of its biggest problems. Maybe if Tarantino had a larger budget and more freedom, we would have seen something better.
“Reservoir Dogs” serves as a precursor to excellence. It’s an unfinished jigsaw, you can see the overall picture of brilliance, but half a Mona Lisa is worth as much as a royale with cheese nowadays.
Now there’s an idea…