The Tarantino Reviews – ‘Reservoir Dogs’ (1992)

Quentin Tarantino's first film is still a hell of a directorial debut!

Review by J.T. Johnson


Welcome to The Tarantino Reviews as I look back at the works of writer and director Quentin Tarantino. There are few directors like Tarantino, though many have tried to emulate his style and unique writing. His characters are complex and imperfect yet likable. His dialogue is extremely well crafted yet it feels like his characters are just having natural conversations. His love for the cinema of old, particularly crime films, Hong Kong hits, grindhouse classics and Westerns, is unparalleled.

With the impending release of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”, I wanted to take a moment to look back at the near three decade career of Tarantino, a director unlike any other! Today, I take a look at his first feature film as a director, “Reservoir Dogs”.

Right out of the gate, writer and director Quentin Tarantino proves to be one of the best auteurs working in Hollywood. While most people discovered “Reservoir Dogs” after the release of his bigger hit film “Pulp Fiction”, it is still essential viewing for anyone looking to check out Tarantino’s work. From the start, Tarantino is taking a genre that he loved and making it his own.

“Reservoir Dogs” is a heist film, but with one big twist. We never see the heist. We only hear about it from the criminals who tried to pull it off. Tarantino’s flair for telling a nonlinear story is also at work here. Tarantino kicks off the film in a diner with our band of misfit criminals as they have a nice, casual breakfast before pulling off their heist.

They head out on their way to an unknown yet bloody outcome. After the opening credits, two of the criminals known as Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) and Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) are speeding away in a car. Mr. Orange has been shot in the gut and is bleeding out while in full hysterics while Mr. White tries to comfort him.

The two criminals eventually end up in the warehouse where all of the criminals were scheduled to meet up. It is at this warehouse where we learn that things went horribly wrong during the heist and a bloodbath ensued. In addition to the scenes in the warehouse, we occasionally jump back in time with our criminals individually and learn how they became involved in the heist to begin with.

‘Reservoir Dogs’ is still an impressive debut with immoral yet likable characters and brilliant dialogue.

The movie is about honor among thieves and the mystery of trying to figure out who set them all up. Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) eventually arrives and correctly figures out that the cops were already at the jewelry store that they intended to rob. The only problem is that they don’t know who the rat is and for about half the film, neither do we.

In the meantime, we get plenty of great scenes where Tarantino’s signature flair for dialogue is evident. The first scene in the film is a monologue from Mr. Brown (Tarantino) about Madonna’s hit song “Like a Virgin”. It is a great scene of nonessential dialogue that, nevertheless, lets us know about these characters.

Another great scene is when Mr. Orange gives a harrowing account of walking into a restroom with a bag of weed only to discover five officers and a German Shepard are in there hanging out. Mr. Orange is relaying this story to those he wants to work for and the entire scene is rather intense. There’s actually a twist to this scene that makes its effectiveness even more impressive, but I can’t say anymore without spoiling anything else.

Like with all of his other films, Tarantino put together a top notch cast for this film. At the center of it is Mr. White and Mr. Orange. Both Keitel and Roth are absolutely perfect in their roles and despite being stone cold killers, you end up feeling for both of them. Then there is Michael Madsen as Mr. Blonde.

Mr. Blonde is a gleefully sadistic character and he takes part in the film’s now infamous torture scene. This scene is so powerful that many people walked out of the theater when the movie was released. The key thing here, though, is that the scene is actually not that brutal as the main act of violence actually happens offscreen, proving once again that the theater of the mind is a far more powerful thing that actually showing the act of violence.

The movie is about noticeably bad people, but their strange code of honor makes you root for at least some of them. Tarantino has always had a knack for making unsavory characters somewhat relatable and that all started with this debut film. When I sat down to watch the film for the purposes of this review, it had been a few years since I had seen the film.

I forgot just how great this movie was and while Tarantino definitely moved on to bigger and better films, this has to be one of the best debuts for a first time director in the history of film. If you’ve never checked it out, I highly recommend it whether you’re looking to watch Tarantino’s earlier films or if you just want to watch a truly unique heist film.

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