Sunday, September 2, 2012

#748. Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Directed By: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen

Tag line: "Four perfect killers. One perfect crime. Now all they have to fear is each other"

Trivia:  The final answer print of the film came back from the lab just 3 days before its world premiere at Sundance

Reservoir Dogs was Quentin Tarantinio's debut film, and as such served as our first glimpse into a style of film making as influential as any the medium has ever encountered.

Joe Cabot (Laurence Tierney) and his son, Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn), are planning the perfect heist, guaranteed to net them a fortune in diamonds. To pull it off, they assemble a team of professional crooks, none of whom have met before. In fact, to ensure complete anonymity, Cabot assigns each one a color name, such as Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen), Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi), and Mr. Orange (Tim Roth), so nobody will ever know anyone else’s actual identity. But the robbery doesn’t go according to plan, leading to a violent shootout with police on the busy streets of L.A. Those lucky enough to survive are convinced the authorities responded a bit too quickly, which means one of their group must be either a policeman or an informant. While hiding out in an abandoned warehouse, they piece together everything that happened, hoping to uncover clues as to who might have tipped off the cops.

Reservoir Dogs introduced us to a number of techniques Tarantino would utilize in later works like Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown and Kill Bill, key among them being how he plays with the film’s timeline, shifting the action from present to past, then back again. As the movie opens, the main cast is sitting around a large table in a coffee house, enjoying breakfast and talking about everything from Madonna to why Mr. Pink doesn’t believe in tipping waitresses. Immediately after that scene ends, we cut to the interior of a car, covered in blood, with Mr. White driving frantically and Mr. Orange writhing around in the back seat, badly injured from a gunshot wound to the belly. The viewer’s response to such a dramatic jump in the story is, at first, confusion, then curiosity. What happened? Where’s everybody else? What’s going on? In the coffee house, the characters never discussed the robbery, meaning, at this point, we don’t even realize they’re crooks. A few details fall into place once Mr. White and Mr. Orange arrive at the warehouse, where they’re soon joined by Mr. Pink. But this scene throws yet another curve our way when Mr. Pink rants about a possible “rat” in their ranks. So, even as some riddles are answered (they’re thieves whose heist went bad), another is presented: who’s the rat?

Novels do this all the time”, Tarantino said in a 1992 interview. “A novelist would think nothing of starting in the middle. I think movies should benefit from the novel’s freedom”. Reservoir Dogs definitely does benefit in that Tarantino and his characters are holding all the cards, which they meticulously turn over so we, the audience, can slowly fill in the blanks. More than a clever cinematic style, these shifts in the story grab us, forcing us to pay attention out of fear we may miss something. And Reservoir Dogs is so damned engaging that you won’t want to miss a single second of it.

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