Thursday, March 31, 2016
(October 1992, U.S.)
If you go back in time to when I first posted my blog for Stanley Kubrick's 1956 film THE KILLING, you'll recall how I cited this film as a strong inspiration for Quentin Tarantino's independent film RESERVOIR DOGS. Not to take away anything from RESERVOIR DOGS' neo-noir and non-linear structure for what can clearly be labeled among the "heist gone wrong" crime thriller genre, but it should be noted that, like many great films, it gets its inspiration from a previous source (but what better source than the late, great Stanley Kubrick, yes?). As with many of other Tarantino's films (this being his first), the true originality lies not only in showing us what happened before and after the botched diamond heist, but the offbeat and quirky dialogue that's made Tarantino's career a true art form. From the moment we meet eight men sitting around a coffee shop table eating breakfast together, it's immediately apparent that these these men are crooks, thieves and potential murderers. But hey, even scum like these guys are not above having a (semi) intellectual conversation behind the true meaning of Madonna's "Like a Virgin". This video was, by the way, the only time (other than her 1992 sex book!) I ever really found Madonna totally hot! I mean, geez, look at her...
(but I digress!)
It's breakfast time (because you can't plan a perfect crime without a good, solid breakfast!) and the planning and scheming is in the works. Six total strangers using aliases: Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen), Mr. Blue (Edward Bunker), Mr. Brown (Quentin himself!), Mr. Orange (Tim Roth), Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi), and Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), respectively. The entire operation is the plan of mob boss Joe Cabot (played by Lawrence Tierney), the organizer of the heist, and his son "Nice Guy" Eddie Cabot (played by Chris Penn, Sean's late brother). Seems safe enough that if they don't know each other's real names, then they can't rat each other out. As previously mentioned, the film focuses and the before, that is, the set up and planning that include the infiltration of the gang by an undercover cop who's actually Mr. Orange, and the bloody aftermath in which one of the men is dead, Mr. Orange is (really) bleeding to death from a gunshot wound and it's become pretty obvious to the others that there's a rat in the mix. We don't actually get to see the diamond robbery and how it all went to shit (which is unfortunate, actually, but you can't help be feel like you want more throughout the film), but we're given all the information through the tense dialogue as the surviving crooks recap what happened and try to determine how they were set up. It's through the dialogue that we truly get to know the heart of the gang, namely Mr. White, Mr. Pink, Mr. Orange and Mr. Blonde. And speaking of Mr. Blonde, never has their likely been a more serious and scary criminal as he's played by Madsen. Never was the characteristic of "silent, but deadly" more disturbing and explicit than when he's doing a sadistic dance to the tune of Stealers Wheel "Stuck in the Middle With You" in front of a bound and bloody police officer before slicing off his ear with a straight razor (oh, man, it's sick!!!).
RESERVOIR DOGS is also a film of memorable images, even if they only last a brief moment. If I were to look up the true definition of "Mexican standoff", I think I'd cite this film for sure! I mean, aside from the violent climax when all surviving crew members just shoot each other, there's this iconic image of just Keitel and Buscemi standing off with each other, one of them on the floor...
It's a simple shot, but it creates a sense of desperation and brutality while still maintaining a small sense of humanity because these two men don't actually shoot each other at this time, but rather allow diplomacy and reason to continue for a while longer. We spend our viewing time watching the pieces of the intricate crime puzzle take slow form without actually achieving completion. Tarantino leaves us to use our own judgement that can help fill in a few of the blanks of what we did not get to see on screen. Fact is, despite the bloody mess of it all, it's a whole lot of fun and a real pleasure to be allowed in on it. And in the end, it's the one surviving crew member who was afraid of being associated with a name like Mr. Pink because it sounded like "pussy" who actually survives it all and gets away with the diamonds! Ironic, but somehow, I think he deserved it!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Nice Guy Eddie: "The man you just killed was just released from prison. He got caught at a company warehouse full of hot items. He could've fuckin' walked. All he had to do was say my dad's name, but he didn't. He kept his fucking mouth shut and did his fuckin' time, and he did it like a man. He did four years for us. So, Mr. Orange, you're tellin' me this very good friend of mine, who did four years for my father, who in four years never made a deal, no matter what they dangled in front of him, you're telling me that now, that now this man is free, and we're making good on our commitment to him, he's just gonna decide, out of the fucking blue, to rip us off!!?"