“Reservoir Dogs” is a movie that for me has gotten better with time. When I first saw it, it was so depressing it was hard to be invested in any of the characters. They were all extremely flawed and I saw no reason to care about them. This second time watching this film gave me a new perspective though. I’ll get into what changed my perspective about the film in the assessment.
“Reservoir Dogs” was written and directed by Quentin Tarantino and produced by Lawrence Bender.
The premise of the film is that a bunch of strangers are called on to do a diamond heist by the Mob Boss Joe Cabot. They are each given names tied to colors except for Joe’s son Eddie “Nice Guy” Cabot but things soon unravel as they discover they were set up and a mole is among them leading to the death of two of the group in the initial heist. From here the story unfolds in the warehouse while giving us the survivor’s backstory.
Here is the assessment of the film
The Pros: The Soundtrack – The use of 70’s music like “Stuck in the Middle with You,” gives a light feel to the heavy scenes and silence that unfolds through a lot of the production. It gives the thrill of the heist and the idea of the heist which makes the traumatic events afterward (Mr. Orange has a bullet to the gut, a cop gets tortured, multiple standoffs) and adds dimensions to the scenes. The collection of artists added a lot to the film.
The Structure – Tarantino has always been known for his breaking of linear story structure and this film does it really well. We get the survivor’s backstory…from Mr. White being the reluctant thief, to Mr. Blonde getting out of prison and his relationship with Eddie, Joe’s son…to Mr. Pink surviving the robbery and getting the jewels and Mr. Orange’s backstory as an undercover cop trying to bring down the Cabot family leading to the final conclusion of events and the finale scene.
Cinematography – Most of the film is filmed in a warehouse but how it is filmed makes it appear like a prison cell or an open battlefield…Andrzej Sekula did an amazing job with showing the scenery as a reflection of the characters’ mindsets. From seeing Mr. Blonde leaving to get the gasoline and being the only one we see perspectivewise leave the warehouse…to Mr. Orange and White as always being presented closer, like they are trapped.
The Characters – I didn’t like the character the first time I saw it. They were racist criminals who were impossible to root for. This time my perspective changed in that you see how each of them besides Mr. Blonde had a life beyond the work. This adds stakes and adds sympathy even if the characters aren’t wholly sympathetic…which is a Tarantino thing since in most of this films the characters are flawed to the point of almost being unsympathetic a lot of the time.
Mr. Pink – Steve Buscemi is one of the common actors in Tarantino or Rodriguez films and here does a great job as the cowardly survivor. He is the one who doesn’t have an ego in the battle between folks and because of this only has a gun pulled on him once. He also makes the getaway with the diamonds showing that he never lost site of the mission. His dynamic is fascinating as he is the most submissive of the characters but also fights back when threatened. He certainly isn’t good, but he is an intriguing character.
Mr. Orange – Tim Roth (another common Tarantino actor) does a great job as the undercover cop. We see him remind the cop who was tortured by Mr. Blonde that he’s dying and help is on the way so to stop panicking and also how he takes on the role of the character that eventually Mr. White feels drawn to. He plays the rookie criminal real well and his biggest tragedy is when he confesses his identity to Mr. White which leads to Mr. White killing him in the end.
Mr. White – Harvey Keitel plays the reluctant thief as we see he’d had a falling out with an ex-partner and was set moving on before Joe’s pulls him back in. His character is a character of regret as he learns Joe was right about Mr. Orange and that his defense of Mr. Orange ruined any chance he had of getting out of the business. I didn’t feel bad for the guy the first time I saw this film, but did this time as he is a person acting from what he knows…even as he tries to get beyond it.
Mr. Blonde – This guy is a psycho and an interesting one at that. From torturing a cop to 70’s hits and killing civilians in the bank…this guy doesn’t care at all about anything except his loyalty to the Cabot family. When he got killed it was rewarding as he is the closest thing there is to an antagonist in this film. He’s an unrepentant crook who just enjoys hurting people.
The Themes – The Themes are great. Trust is key and all the interesting characters are conflicted and just trying to survive. No one knows anyone’s identity and they are dependent on the mob boss for an out but soon find he doesn’t have all the answers and things have gotten too deep. It’s only the character who trusts no one…Mr. Pink, who survives.
Okay/Con: The Cabots – I didn’t really care about Eddie or Joe. They basically function as standard mob bosses and there wasn’t anything complex about them. They were loyal to those who were loyal to them and Blonde and Eddie were like brothers…but it never got deeper than that. I never cared about these characters.
Mr. Blue and Mr. Brown – Tarantino plays Mr. Brown but is a one note character. Neither of them is really memorable so their deaths mean nothing beyond a statistic. Tarantino usually plays more interesting characters so it was a shame.
“Reservoir Dogs” is by no means my favorite Tarantino film, though at this point I feel comfortable calling it a favorite. It is really good, even if it isn’t great and the non-linear story structure really serves the drama and raises the stakes. The music is also a great addition like most Tarantino films, and of course the cinematography is beautiful. If you haven’t seen it and like Tarantino, check it out. At the very least check out some of the character names and themes that would inspire Vince Gillian in “Breaking Bad.”
Final Score: 8.6 / 10. A very good favorite.