Monday, 28 February 2011
Starring: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Steve Buscemi
By Alan Bacchus
Reservoir Dogs seems like eons ago. At the time that movie was just about the coolest thing on earth for the 20 and 30 somethings. It’s almost 20 years later, and whether the film looks or feels dated or overexposed is moot, it's importance in the cultural zeitgeist assures it a sort of untouchable tenureship in cinema-history. Love him or hate him, the influence of Quentin Tarantino and this film in particular throughout the 90's and beyond was long reaching.
Reservoir Dogs premiered at Sundance 1992, played at TIFF in the Fall and was released later that year, but it wasn’t until it's video release did it catch fire. From the opening conversation Tarantino was announcing himself to the film world. We never heard a conversation like that – Mr. Brown’s graphic description of the meaning of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” as well as Mr. Pink’s rant about not-tipping. Then the music kicks in, a little known 70’s track by god-knows-who which sounded so cool. Cigarette smoking, sunglasses wearing bank robbers walking in slo-mo. Whatever it was this was a cool movie so far. Then we see two of the same characters we saw in the first scene Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) and Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) who just committed a heist driving in a car, except Orange is bleeding like a stuck pig all over the pristine white interior of their car. The film just got even more intriguing.
As White and Orange convene in their agreed-to abandoned warehouse to figure out exactly what went wrong, the film flashes back to retrace exactly how each character got put on the job. With everyone accusing everyone else of being the rat, Mr. White defends Mr. Orange to the end and in doing so develops a fraternal bond with him.
Scene after scene bristles with originality in the post-modern way. Tarantino culled some of his favorite scenes and lines from his favourite films and mashed them together with his instantly trademark dialogue creating the first “Tarantino-movie”. Somewhere in the film are pieces of: “The Killing”, “Taking of Pelham 1,2,3”, “The Professionals”, “Point Blank”, “Do the Right Thing” even obscure Italian genre films Django.
Even the truncated time-shifting was fresh and soon to be copied everywhere. There was nothing formula about this genre film. Tarantino wasn’t concerned with the heist, or whether they get away with the diamonds, but the relationship of Orange and White. Tarantino even reveals to the audience midway through the film that Mr. Orange is actually the undercover cop who sold out the crew. But the main reveal is when Orange confesses to White. This is more powerful because we know the emotional pain this takes on both Orange and White. It still is a remarkably dramatic moment.
Has Tarantino changed over the years? Yes and no. He’s certainly gotten egotistical with his dialogue. In both Kill Bill and Death Proof, Tarantino could have used an assertive editor to challenge him into trimming and shaping his meandering conversations. Yet, in Inglourious Basterds, though equally long-winded every line seemed just right. And his films seem to get more anachronistic and insular. Death Proof was his least accessible film by far. Even Kurt Russell fans have to be scratching their heads. But each film is an impassioned personal piece of work, whether it’s a hit or a miss, Tarantino will never sell out and make someone else’s film.