“Are you gonna bark all day, little doggy, or are you gonna bite?”
Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 directorial debut ‘Reservoir Dogs’, an independent film with little promotion upon release has since gone on to become a cult classic, gaining an even wider audience following Tarantino’s later successes with hit films such as ‘Pulp Fiction’ starring John Travolta, ‘Kill Bill’ and ‘Jackie Brown’.
The film which tells the story of a group of ‘colourful’ criminals and their botched attempt at a diamond heist features homage on Tarantino’s now signature aestheticization of violence. Without giving away too many plot points, this is most notably seen in the notorious ‘torture scene’ in which Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) brutally tortures a Police officer, during this the upbeat tones of Stealers Wheel’s ‘Stuck in the Middle With You’ are heard and work as a total counterpoint to the violence on the screen. Mr. Blonde is even seen dancing to the music in front of his soon-to-be torture victim prior to this, leading both the audience and the victim into a false sense of security as the music and his actions pose a complete antithesis as to what’s about to happen.
Throughout the film the soundtrack featuring songs mostly from the 70’s is incredibly effective. It’s unique and unlike most other film soundtrack’s (especially at this time, in 1992) in that opposed to having an aim of moulding the viewers emotional response to mirror what occurs on the screen, this soundtrack does the complete opposite – hence making the shockingly violent scenes depicted seem even more shocking, an example being the sunny disposition and upbeat verses paired with a police officer having an ear cut off; the music is often a complete contrast to the story.
The film focuses on the events occurring before and after the heist in more detail than the actual heist itself, and much like Tarantino’s later works also features a non-linear story structure. This lack of focus on the heist making almost the entire film consist mainly of dialogue, and taking place for the most part in an abandoned warehouse. There is no real attempt at cramming in any action, and the low-budget independent therefore relies completely on the strength of the script, directing and importantly the actors, rather than compensating with expensive set pieces, special effects and action shots. Extensive character development goes a long way in ensuring this clever story really works and the actors all really pull it out of the bag when it comes to their on screen chemistry helping the story to ring true. The whole film surrounds the crime gang’s attempt at discovering how the police were in on their plan from the beginning. They suspect one another and at multiple points throughout the film point guns at each other, and by the end can trust no one.
The inclusion of Steve Buscemi as Mr. Pink adds some levity to the otherwise ‘rock and a hard place’ situation, with his pearls of wisdom on the act of tipping, as well as his outrage as being named “Mr Pink” making him a fan favourite alongside fellow criminals Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) and Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen).
Mr. White shows some emotion towards Mr. Orange, this is rare and he is the only character to do so, the others are not averse to seeing him die. Due to this side of Mr. White, he’s much more relatable to the audience than the others, and because we as an audience see his caring side, we care for him as a character and don’t want to see bad things happen to him. They’re all bad guys, but he has a good side at least (we can’t say the same about the others).
Due to the amazing extent of character development, as well as the well directed depiction of such an intelligently written story, I’m rating this brilliant film a rare and impressive 9 out of 10 for its inclusion of everything you could want from a film and more, making the fact that this was Tarantino’s feature debut even more impressive.