25 years on, and the influence of Reservoir Dogs is never stronger.
Cited and criticised as a gratuitous exercise in violence and filth, the heist film with no heist is a riveting stage play made into film. With the majority of its all-star cast – which reads as a who’s who of character actor – the film’s intelligence and daring verve hasn’t been lost.
Throughout this exercise in brutality, six criminals stick up a jewellery store for every shiny gem they’ve got – the “ice”, as its known throughout the film. No group of friends populate this film, so you can forget a prequel to Oceans Eleven. These hardened types have been selected by mob boss Joe because none of them know each other, and, that way you eliminate any infiltration by a rat. If you’re already feeling the Scorsese vibe, you’re certainly not wrong – but this is no schlock remix of Mean Streets. Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), Mr. Orange (Tim Roth), Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi), Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen), Mr. Brown (Quentin Tarantino) and Mr. Blue (Edward Bunker) all give equally hilarious and dark performances. Who can forget Michael Madsen dancing to Stealers Wheel, the very apotheosis of icy cool.
Structurally, the use of the flashback, ‘answers first, questions later’ narrative challenges the director, yet Tarantino solves this with clever exposition and dialogue. The script itself laying the clues and foundations of the storyline which are expressed through Tarantino’s dark pop-culture lens.
The cinematography, the strident use of blood, the all black suits has spawned a generation of film goers to replicate (mostly with limited success) that ear splitting level of mayhem. In terms of its role in indie filmmaking, however, it showed that a director without the shackles of a traditional studio or format could rewrite the rules of Hollywood. The auteur finally had a platform from which to strike out and break the mould. All of Tarantino’s films reflect this glorious sense of carnage – look no further than his magnum opus, Pulp Fiction. While not as coherent as his debut effort, there is still a sense that there is a distinct Tarantino continuum.
Reservoir Dogs simply broke all rules over what was accepted in cinema. While David lynch was breaking new psychological ground, Tarantino was coalescing popular culture into a distinct potion of anarchy and the philosophical debate around the ‘new’ and ‘old’ Aerosmith. Yet the question remains, what have we learned from Reservoir Dogs some 25 years on, the original cult film?
Well, have learned that hyper-violence is the path to critical revilement and respect. That Tarantino likes to say ‘fuck’ a lot. That the casting of Steve Buscemi is the best thing you can do for any film, ever. Without Reservoir Dogs we wouldn’t have the respect ready for idiosyncratic creatives such as Wes Anderson. That is not to say that Reservoir Dogs is the defining film of its era – far from it. Rather, it showcases a different method of filmmaking, one indebted to the films that came before, it is unafraid to homogenise everything that came before it into a zany and weird bastardisation.
As Tarantino stated to Keitel: “I watch movies.” Who are we to complain with the results.
Words by James Hill