Saturday, 30 June 2012

Film Review | Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Reservoir Dogs celebrates its twentieth birthday this year. In the year of the film's release, Coppola's The Godfather was twenty years old and firmly established as one of the greatest crime dramas, and the greatest films, ever released. It's my strong conviction that, two decades on from when it was first seen, the same can be said of Tarantino's directorial debut.

The film tells the story of a diamond heist gone wrong, depicting the events leading up to and following on from the heist, but not the actual robbery itself. Most of the men involved don't know each other, using colour-coded aliases to refer to each other. As events unfold, Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) begins to form a bond with Mr. Orange (Tim Roth); at the same time, other members of the group, particularly Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi), suspect that the heist was a set up with a rat amongst them.

From the very first scene to the very last, Reservoir Dogs is electrically charged cinema that demands your attention and rewards every minute of it. Tarantino's story is simple, often related using simple imagery - the colour-coded names, the black-and-white suits, the minimalist setting of a warehouse feeling almost like a theatrical stage - but also told with intelligence and skill that forces you to stay on your toes. Many of the director's hallmarks are first seen in this film and used to astounding effect. Tarantino is sharp and in complete control, knowing exactly what he wants you to see and how he wants you to see it. The "commode story" sequence is one of my all-time favourite pieces of cinema, and even after seeing it dozens of times it still sends shivers down my spine thanks to the craftsmanship and power behind every moment of the story-within-a-story-within-a-story. The script throughout is sharp, witty, compelling; if you ever needed proof that Tarantino is an artist behind the camera, Reservoir Dogs is it.

The cast are flawless, littering the film with a wealth of perfect performances, to the point that singling out any one performance seems unfair. Keitel and Roth are superb as the veteran criminal who allows his hard exterior to be penetrated by a first-timer; the scenes between these two are packed with genuine heart to the point that you often forget how despicable some of the things they are saying and doing are. Buscemi is a joy as Mr. Pink, frantic yet determined and, arguably, the one with his head most firmly on his shoulders. Michael Madsen's performance as Mr. Blonde is brilliantly unnerving, keeping us guessing as to exactly how demented he might be until a certain scene involving a policeman, a chair and a cutthroat razor lays his character bare.

Many hold up Pulp Fiction, Tarantino's next film, as the director's defining work. But as good as Pulp Fiction is, I will always choose Reservoir Dogs as holding that honour. It signified a new era in cinema of indie and arthouse values brought together brilliantly with traditional Hollywood ideology. It also announced Tarantino as a writer and director of whom the world needed to sit up and take notice. Most importantly of all, it's a piece of cinema as vibrant and aggressively engaging now as it was when it was first released, and one that I find impossible to fault.


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