#67: Reservoir Dogs [1992]

It's a shame that whatever you read about this great, great film is always full of references to other movies. Everything from The Killing to Rashomon are compared with Quentin Tarantino's
directional debut. Unfortunately, I feel badly placed to assess the validity of many of these claims, being somewhat of a newcomer to the whole film-watching thing. Although, I can say the film's similarities to Rashomon are so vague and unspecific that's it's not worth mentioning. No matter how much of the plot is stolen from other sources (Tarantino always navigating his way around accusations of plagiarism by saying that he simply pays homage), Reservoir Dogs is still a jewel of independent cinema. The movie was produced on a budget barely over 1 million dollars and received very little attention outside of the industry's elite until Pulp Fiction sparked public interest in his work later on.
Aside from Tarantino's direction, which I'll come to later, a major strength of Reservoir Dogs is its exemplary cast. The characters are all well-seasoned criminals (save the undercover cop) employed by Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney) and his son, Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn), to perform a diamond heist, except of course it all goes wrong. The plot deals with the before and after, the heist itself never being on screen. The men (there are no named women in this film) are all strangers and given codenames: Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), Mr Orange (Tim Roth), Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen), Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi), Mr. Blue (Eddie Bunker) and finally Mr. Brown, who is Tarantino, a definite non-actor, but we'll overlook that.
Together, their performances draw us beyond the usual distant audience role. Not that we feel particularly on their side - they are criminals after all. It's more that the sheer panic is depicted so powerfully that we can't watch comfortably. Couple that with the suffering of undercover Mr Orange, who is slowly bleeding to death, and the kidnapped policeman (Kirk Baltz) who Mr Blonde tortures so famously and horrifically, and you've got yourself a great big boiling pot of confused emotional turmoil. But then, I always find Tarantino a bit overwhelming.
All in all, I was impressed with Tarantino's first film. There's a clear self-confidence in the way he formally introduces himself to the world, even giving himself screen time to put a face to the name. But then, you'd have to be confident to have that famous torture scene in your first major production. What with the director’s glee over the number of prominent industry names walking out at the film's Cannes screening, it’s clear Tarantino was intending to make a name for himself. It seems to have worked.