Reservoir Dogs

Year 1992

Harvey Keitel as  Mr. White - Larry Dimmick
Tim Roth as Mr. Orange - Freddy Newandyke  
Michael Madsen as Mr. Blonde - Vic Vega
Chris Penn as Eddie Cabot
Steve Buscemi as Mr. Pink
Lawrence Tierney as Joe Cabot
Edward Bunker as Mr. Blue
Quentin Tarantino   as Mr. Brown
Director - Quentin Tarantino
Screenwriter - Quentin Tarantino

The overly popular Quentin Tarantino needed to have built up credibility at some point in his career, right? I mean, barely palatable tripe like Inglourious Basterds cannot have been nominated for Best Picture on their own merits. The nomination had to come from past history, right? Steven Soderberg to the contrary, this is usually the case. In the case of Tarantino, Reservoir Dogs is the achievement that gave him the clout.

First off, what exactly is a reservoir dog anyway? Is is a drowned animal? Is it something that makes your drinking water taste bad? Is it a canine whose paws turn into flippers while its neck sprouts gills? Maybe it's a fish like a big version of a mud puppy? I dunno. It sounds pretty edgy, though.

So, what sets the movie apart from other ludicrous Tarantino fare? Maybe it's the sense of doing something tight and intense with consumate professionals. As many times as characters in the movie refer to themselves as being professionals, the real professionals are the actors.

Before I start talking about the stars of the show, let me first tell you what the movie is about and how you have to watch it differently than you do other movies. The movie is about a failed jewel heist and the robbers who perpetrated the crime.

Based on that statement, you may be thinking it's a caper film. If so, then you're way off the mark. This movie isn't about the tension that gets wratcheted up as a result of anticipating split second timing and skin-of-the-teeth planning and execution. It's not even about the special twist that you never saw coming - unless you are watching Oceans 12 where the so called surprise collides with your sense of sanity about one second after the proposed heist pitfalls are announced.

But enough about one of the worst movies ever made. Let's get back to Reservoir Dogs. What gets you in this movie is trying to figure out what went wrong during the caper. The non-linear story telling method serves to keep things at an on-the-edge level of taughtness.

Here's a bit of information to keep in mind when watching this film. Don't worry, it's not a plot spoiler. It is a technique spoiler though. Why am I going to do this? Well, the first time I saw this movie, I spent as much time trying to figure out what was going on from a time line point perspective as I did unraveling the clues, twists, and details. This detracted from the movie experience.

Rather than have you suffer through it, allow me to give you some details that will make the movie more entertaining and then, when you watch it, you can savor the little details. In the first scene, we meet the gang in a diner. They're having breakfast and getting ready to do the job. It took me a while to fit this in with the whole series of jumps that make up this movie. So there, it's laid out for you. I kept expecting it to be something more and something that somehow took place after the fact. It doesn't. It's the start of the day.

In the next scene, two of gang are heading to the hideout after the robbery. There's that gap that'll get you. At no time was the actual robbery shown. In fact, throughout the course of the movie, even during the flashbacks to just after the crime, you still never see the crime. The flashbacks take their own pattern, so they're jumps within flashbacks.

When Tarantino wants the viewer to find out about a character, he flashes the character's pseudonym on the screen (each pseudonym is a different color). Then, usually time jumps back to when the character was first let in on the caper. Often that's followed by a scene or two of what the character did to escape after leaving the jewelry store. Then, it's back to the present at the rendez-vous until the next series of events sets up another flashback sequence.

There are two scenes in the movie that are in the present. The first is the diner and that time period completes before the opening credits. The second is the rendez-vous point. Everything else, except maybe the initial drive of Mr. White, is flashback.

Now you won't get lost and you can pay attention to the details like the well defined characters. Is Mr. White truly cool and methodical, or will he crack under pressure? What about the reliability of Mr. Pink who is too cerebral for his own good and is concerned with acting like a professional? (Did he just run for cover?) Then there's Mr. Blond, the supposed psychopath who actually lives his life according to his rules and has something to prove to himself after his stint in prison. There are two others, though their talents are at opposite ends of the pond.

First, the muddy end. This character almost sinks the movie. It's Mr. Brown played by non-other than the master of d**k himself...Quentin Tarantino! Stay behind the camera!

I've heard that "the" is the most popular word in the English language. (One of the voices told me.) This is not the case in Tartino's world. His most popular word refers to male genitalia. He's going to get his wet in Grindhouse and here he talks about its pertinence with respect to the Madonna song, Like a Virgin. I'll bet he used it often in From Dusk 'til Dawn as well.

Now I'm not saying that he's trying to prove anything, but he probably drives a Bougatti and admires skyscrapers for their "inner meaning". He's obsessed with saying the word. It's embarrassing. He's embarrassing as an actor.

When Tarantino is in front of a camera, the best part of the movie is the part where he's removed from it. Fortunately for Reservoir Dogs, he gets killed in the robbery which takes place during the opening credits. If not, we'd probably have to hear about how he got shot in the crotch.

The other character is played by the venerable(?) Lawrence Tierney. Somewhere I saw him referred as venerable, as in worthy of veneration. On your knees before Lawrence Tierney? Seriously?

The late Lawrence Tierney was a piece of work. Like a single cast mold, there was no one else quite like him. Check out Hoodlum if you don't believe me. Or try watching Tough Guys Don't Dance without being captivated by him. (Yes, as in being held captive by his presence.)

When you're talking about Reservoir Dogs, you're talking about a movie that includes actors like Steve Buscemi, Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, and Michael Madsen. Yet, even surrounded by this stellar talent, the person who steals every scene he's in is Lawrence Tierney. The man was something special.

Here's an example of an exchange between Eddie (Tierney) and Mr. Pink (Buscemi)

Pink: Why do I have to be Mr. Pink?
Eddie: Because you look like a faggot.

(That's what they said in my version. On cable, the "look like" is replace with an "are")

This goes on for a while, with Mr. Pink offering to take a different color or trade with someone. But Eddie is in charge and in the end, thanks to fine writing and excellent acting, Eddie is in control and Mr. Pink looks like he's ready to swallow his tongue.

I wondered what might have happened if Mr. Blond, fresh out of prison, would have been christened Mr. Pink. There's a noteworthy scene that intimates that Mr. Blond might have done things he was not proud of while in prison. The writing is a little hamfisted (Guess what word gets coarsely overused?) but the acting of Michael Madsen, Chris Penn, and the powerful Lawrence Tierney overcome this and pull the scene off.

Although there's no nudity, very little blasphemy and not a lot of violence, there're buckets of blood and many tense scenes, including one of torture. Not a chick flick. Definitely a guy film to be seen at least once. It's well crafted and, despite it's subject matter, is a superior work of art. If you're not squeamish, you owe it to yourself to check this one out.

A surprise was Eddie's son played by Chris Penn. The very large, very wimpy looking Penn at first looked to be a weak link in the casting. When he's on-screen in his sweats while everyone else is wearing ties, I thought, "Oh, no! Not another Tarantino touch to take me out of the story!"

But, as soft and out of touch as the character at times appears, when decisions need to be made, he makes them with authority. Case in point - when he arrives at the way station and finds that a kidnapped police officer is the center of a controversy. He announces, "Which cop? This cop?" Bam, bam, bam! Problem solved.

There's a big problem with the plot in this one. In a lesser movie with weaker actors and poorer direction, it would have been a deal breaker. In this one, the plot only serves to move along the tremendously effective and well connected set pieces, so the problem is diminished.

On a side note, if you only watch one Tarantino movie, then this is the one. If you want to watch a second one, then maybe, Kill Bill Volume 1.

Skip the remaining paragraphs if you want to avoid spoilers because I'm going to talk about the plot problem. Early in the movie, it's announced that there's a "snitch" in the group and they "were set up" according to Mr. Pink. The robbery wasn't prevented though because the authorities wanted to arrest Big Eddie. In fact they let the crime proceed so that they could (and this is important) catch Eddie "red handed" at the rendez-vous warehouse. If, when the cops intervened at the heist location they been successful in capturing everyone, Eddie would have never been caught.

So why were the cops there at all? They knew of the robbery and the location of the way station. What the heck were they doing at the scene of the crime? Oh, in the movie they were there "in case something went wrong". There's even a big explanation about how the cops at the robbery only announced their presence after there was gunfire. In this case, they did no good, got a number of people killed, and, had they been successful, would have destroyed the whole scheme to catch Eddie in the act.

Since the police knew the location of the way station, why were they at the crime scene at all? Why didn't they just wait at the warehouse instead of staking out the jewelry store?

But wait, there's more! Now you might say that the cops were trying to keep the situation under control. In which case, you can count on three dead jewelry store workers, at least three dead cops, and a passer-by in a car as a failure to achieve this. Even if I agree that this is plausible, which I don't, there's still a bigger hole! Eddie wasn't supposed to go to the rendez-vous warehouse.

Eddie's son was supposed to take delivery of the stones, not Eddie himself. So, the whole sting was doomed to failure from the start. The only thing that got Eddie to the way station was the fact that the whole thing fell apart and needed his intervention. If the worker doesn't press the silent alarm or if Mr. Blond doesn't start killing people or if they all got away, then the crew escapes, they go to the way station, the jewels are handed off to Eddie's son, and Eddie is nowhere near the place to be caught "red handed"! What kind of "Let's get Eddie!" plan is that? And the cops knew all this because of their snitch, so it's not like they could have expected to get Eddie at any time. It's all nonsense, but again, thanks to everything else good about the movie, it's not a major knock.

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