TMN Retro Review: Reservoir Dogs

Back at it again with the ‘Dogs’, Paul…

This time, though, from a master filmmaker, before he was a master. Well, before Quentin Tarantino was considered one, at least. Looking back, all of Tarantino’s obvious talent for story, dialogue, and direction are on display here, in nascent form, not to be seen fully matured until his later film Pulp Fiction.

The film stars famous actors Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, and Steve Buscemi, several of whom would come to star in some of Tarantino’s other films. The director also stars as “Mr. Brown.”

The film is a crime thriller. Told from the criminal’s perspective, it comes with most of the obvious trappings of a film in that genre: the preparation, the heist, and the fallout. What makes the movie unique, however, is the way in which the story is told. The events unfold before the audience in a nonlinear fashion. In addition, the primary setpiece and staple of crime films is present only on the periphery: we never get to see the heist take place. We are only made aware of it as the characters discuss it. We are thrust into situations for which we have no context other than dialogue, which heightens the tension because we don’t have a solid idea as to how the conflicts are going to be resolved.

The acting is phenomenal. Tim Roth pulls of an American accent flawlessly. If I hadn’t seen him in other films, I’d have assumed he was American. Seriously, I don’t think he slips up more than once, and even then it felt like a natural slur of words rather than a reversion to the accent of his homeland. Harvey Keitel is amazing, and provides us with a character that exudes an avuncular charm while yet making us believe that this character is capable of extreme violence. Michael Madsen plays a convincing psychopath, his face only ever breaking into a smile when it suits his need to manipulate someone else.

The dialogue is whip-smart and gritty. Tarantino has a knack for giving us casual dialogue that does so much to ground his characters in pop culture, in our world, and to expand upon their depth in that way. Trigger warning for the sensitive, however: Tarantino loves the n-word, and has no shortage of white characters making use of it.

Reservoir Dogs is a terrific film. Anyone who considers a career in movies should take heed and look at this work to realize what independent filmmakers can do with a small budget, but a grand vision.

For TMN, I am Paul Kirkwood.

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