1992, R, 99 min. Directed by Quentin Tarantino. Starring Quentin Tarantino, Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Tierney, Michael Madsen.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 30, 1992
For all the hoopla and controversy surrounding Quentin Tarantino's directorial debut, Reservoir Dogs is, at its bloody, tough-guy heart, a thin little film, gorgeous though it may be. This story about the explosive aftermath of a diamond heist gone awry tends to rely more on placing its violently manly characters in direct, nail-spitting conflict with one another than it does with any actual narrative story. This works like a charm in spots, but in others you may find yourself saying, “well, get on with it, already.” Tarantino uses flashbacks to show how these six uber-macho crooks wander into a set-up and, as things begin to unravel around them back at their hideout, explode into paranoid fits of petty rage and vindictiveness. Madsen's Mr. Blonde (they've all been given color-coordinated code names to reduce the risks of using their real names) turns out to be a bona fide psychotic, dragging a cop back to the hideout as a hostage and then torturing him while the crazily appropriate Seventies hit “Stuck in the Middle With You” plays in the background. Coen Brothers refugee Steve Buscemi (“Mr. Pink? Why do I have to be Mr. Pink? Can't I be, say, Mr. Purple, or something?”) is terrific, and the first one to smell a rat in the works. When he asks Mr. Blonde if he killed anyone in the melee, Blonde replies that he offed a couple of cops. “Any real people?” prompts Mr. Pink. “No. Just cops.” Lines like that pretty much characterize where Tarantino's going with this story of male-disbonding. Only Keitel's Mr. White comes across with any sort of thieves' honor, cradling his gut-shot buddy and whispering “come on, who's a tough guy....who's a tough guy?” Despite the sometimes annoying fact that you can read Tarantino's influences like a book -- Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, Kubrick's The Killing, Scorsese's Mean Streets -- Reservoir Dogs is undeniably one of the most striking and sure-footed debuts since Joel and Ethan Coen's Blood Simple. It's a relentlessly male film, with literally no female characters, a modern-day heist film chock-full of blood and testosterone, and though its reach sometimes exceeds its grasp, Tarantino has created a movie with all the gritty punch of a .44 in the belly.