Retro Review – Reservoir Dogs: Tarantino at his raw, unrefined best


Reservoir Dogs posterAfter last year’s bitterly disappointing Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, which presumably only received an Oscar nomination because of its subject matter, I decided it was time to revisit some of Tarantino’s classics. I’ve always been a huge fan of his work, but Once Upon A Time in Hollywood was such a drab, underwhelming, damp squib of a movie, I actually started to question my Tarantino loyalty.

Reservoir Dogs is a film that I have always hugely enjoyed though and, having not seen it for a good few years, what better place to start? The film was initially released in 1992 and the story behind production is a quite an interesting one. Made on a meagre budget ($1.2 million), Tarantino had to beg, borrow and steal to get his debut film made.

His initial plan was to make the film on a shoestring budget utilising friends, family and freebies to get the project completed. It was by sheer good fortune that the script for the film landed on the desk of Hollywood A-lister Harvey Keitel, who ended up being the driving force behind getting the greenlight. He paid for casting calls and even used his established industry contacts to help get the production ball rolling.

How does Reservoir Dogs hold up almost 30 years later? Well it’s by no means a perfect film. Despite big star involvement, it’s very clearly an independent production. The sound is poor in places, some of the camera work isn’t particularly on point and the film feels like it utilised minimal sets out of necessity, not necessarily out of design.

Harvey Keitel in Reservoir Dogs

© Miramax Films

What is there, though, is incredible storytelling, fantastic scene building and Tarantino’s raw talent for engaging dialogue and characters.

From the opening scene, you know you’re in for a treat. It’s basically just a bunch of cool guys, having cool conversations about cool stuff, and it sets the tone perfectly. Reservoir Dogs is one of Tarantino’s shorter films time-wise, clocking in at only 100 minutes. But oddly enough he manages to achieve more with a in shorter amount of time than he does in some of his longer and larger projects.

By my count, Reservoir Dogs sees the most of Tarantino himself on screen in one of his films as well, although this isn’t in any way, shape or form a positive thing. The guy can’t act. Is it that difficult to keep yourself behind the camera Mr. Tarantino? At least Hitchcock had the humility to make his cameos part of the scenery or, at the very most, fleeting one-liners.

Luckily for us, Tarantino’s Mr. Brown gets wiped out very quickly and we are left with a motley crew of wonderfully written tough guys exchanging barbs, sharing laughs and desperately trying to get the bottom of the film’s central mystery, namely ‘who’s the rat?’. Standouts from the rest of the crew are Keitel’s Mr. White, Buscemi’s Mr. Pink and Madsen’s Mr. Blonde.

The characterisation is so well handled in Tarantino’s film that you really feel you get to know the ‘Dogs’ in the short period of time we spend with them, and you can’t help routing for White, Pink and Orange in particular, despite the fact that they all cold bloodedly murder a load of innocent civilians at one point or another.

Remembering back to the first time I saw the film, the scene that really stuck with me, as I’m sure it does for most people who’ve seen it, is the policeman ear-slicing torture scene. Whilst the scene certainly hasn’t lost its punch, there are so many other great moments that I only now seriously appreciated with an adult head on my shoulders.

Of particular note is the ‘story scene’. Tim Roth’s Mr. Orange must learn a fake gangster anecdote that he can recite to his would-be partners in crime to help convince them of his bad guy credentials. The way the scene plays out with the back and forth between Tim Roth and unsung hero of the casting Randy Brooks is simply great to watch.

Overall, Reservoir Dogs was a little rough around the edges when it was initially released in 1992, and it remains a little rough around the edges now. It does however also remain one of Tarantino’s best pictures to date. It’s concise, impactful and without a minute of film wasted.

As Once Upon A Time In Hollywood demonstrated, Tarantino’s penchant for self-indulgent movie making has reached face-palmingly bad proportions, it’s just a shame we’ll likely never see him at his unrefined best again.

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