"If you shoot this man, you die next. Repeat. If you shoot this man, you die next."
I feel as though I start every review of a Quentin Tarantino movie with the same idea. Tarantino. more so than any other director, runs a major risk of making movies that nobody wants to see. He is driven by ideas and thoughts, but never by anything concrete. It is unrivaled love for filmmaking that keeps him from falling flat on his face. He knows what the audience wants to see, and he makes sure that they see it. In Reservoir Dogs we have the weakest work from QT. This may be his only film that relies solely on dialogue to push the plot. What makes Pulp Fiction so great? It never pushes anything.
Plot pushing is my biggest pet peeve when it comes to storytelling. It is a technique used by a writer who does not believe that the audience will be smart enough to follow the action on their own. Normally, Tarantino has great respect for the intelligence of his audience, but this was his first attempt at making a movie. It seems as though he was more interested at flashing his signature style than he was in telling a compelling story. Everything that happens in Reservoir Dogs is laid out for the audience and conveniently explained by some member of the cast. There is no room for audience interpretation. I wanted more wiggle room - I have come accustomed to it in my time watching QT.
The cast is introduced using one of my favorite tricks - the circulating camera. They all sit around a table in a diner drinking coffee and sharing opinions on everything from Madonna to tipping waitresses. This scene really belongs to the under-appreciated Steve Buscemi, but the entire cast gets a moment. Harvey Keitel as Mr. White is probably my favorite performance in the movie. He provides his role with an unspoken credibility that makes the audience believe. Michael Madsen is a crazy person who tortures a helpless police officer and provides one of the most memorable moments in Reservoir Dogs - singing into the disembodied ear of his victim. Lawrence Tierney and Tim Roth prove to be the antithesis of each other in this movie. Tierney has a deep, brooding voice that commands respect from the men who work for him. Roth spends the majority of his speaking time screeching and hollering in pain over a bullet wound in his gut - "I'm fucking dyin' here!".
The plot is simple and the film is rather short. Crooks have been assembled by an experienced criminal to pull of a difficult diamond heist. The men are not allowed to say anything personal about themselves to keep other group members from being able to squeal upon getting captured. They are given fake names modeled after colors. Mr. White, Orange, Blond, Blue and Pink. Naturally, the comedic Buscemi is unhappy with his color. "Tell you what, let me be Mr. Purple. That sounds good to me. I'm Mr. Purple". He is stuck with Mr. Pink.
Everything goes wrong and the remaining criminals wonder if they had been set up from the inside. Everyone becomes a suspect, and things start to spiral out of control. Guns are pointed at one another, blame is placed and poetic justice is served by the final moment. The audience picks up most of the action through flashbacks from the aftermath of the heist-gone-wrong. The flashbacks in the street are particularly interesting because, just like in Pulp Fiction, Tarantino has an uncanny ability to film location with dire urgency. The characters in the film seem to inhabit an alternate universe than the people walking casually down the street. It is as if the extras are only there for the sake of having people there. They provide a bland, unemotional canvass that adds humor to the scenes. The actual heist is never shown, hence the need for plot pushing.
I am in no way trying to say that Reservoir Dogs is a bad movie. It is a very good movie. All I am saying is that it is the weakest from QT. Is that necessarily a bad thing? No. It was his first try at writing a screenplay. The style, acting and entertainment value was all there, but now that he is best known for Pulp Fiction, this film has lost some steam...
Reservoir Dogs: B+