Reservoir Dogs & How to Be Cool

Reservoir Dogs is one of those films that have aged well. Released in 1992, this was the first movie of Quentin Tarantino. At the time it received a lot of praise on festival like Sundance, Cannes and Toronto, and quickly became one of the most influential indie films of all time. Today it is regarded as one of Tarantino’s best, and it is personally one my favorite movies.

The Beginning

So back then Tarantino had the dream to be a filmmaker. He had a lot of ideas and a lot of passion for cinema, but not many resources. Initially he was planning to film Reservoir Dogs with a really limited budget of 30 000 dollars.. Eventually, thanks to Harvey Keitel and his interest in the movie, he managed to procure 1.5M dollars. Yet, the movie remains a low-budget independent movie and maybe that is its biggest advantage. Reservoir Dogs demonstrate Tarantino’s amazing talent for storytelling, building characters and creating suspense.

The Plot

The plot is simple – five strangers are recruited with the task to rob some diamonds. However, the heist goes wrong, so they start suspecting that one of them is an undercover cop. In the aftermath of the robbery they meet in an abandoned building somewhere in the city to re-group and figure out what happened.

The interesting thing here is that we never see the actual robbery. Initially Tarantino decided to cut this scene due to the limited budget but eventually decided that this creates more mystery and intrigue. And he was right. We don’t need to see the robbery to understand the story and the characters.

Screenplay and Dialogues

The story itself is told in a non-linear way in a sequence of flashbacks and different bits of scenes. So we get to know the characters little by little and to the very end we don’t know what to expect. This serves to create suspense and drama. Thus, although the big part of the movie happens in this abandoned building, the story never gets boring. In a very smart way, Tarantino creates dynamics and action in a movie where characters mainly talk.

Every scene is full of dialogue. And today, having watched many Tarantino movies, this may not surprise you. Dialogues, even when characters talk nonsense, or maybe exactly then, this is Tarantino’s signature. Back then, nobody would have expected that much of talking in a movie where we have a heist, chase, torture and multiple shootings.


Violence and Profanity

Talking about dialogues, I have to mention that Reservoir Dogs is one of the movies with the most profanities in the history of film-making. And here lies Tarantino’s mastery – not even in one moment cursing sounds excessive. Characters are agitated, but never vulgar, and the dialogues between them roll very naturally. Every word, and I mean every curse word as well, is right on the spot.

The violence in the movie is not excessive either, contrary to what some may believe. Tarantino has never shied away from showing blood and mutilation, but he never does it to shock. Violence here, as any other of his movies, is calculated and it serves the story building – helps us create a bond with the characters, and make us like or dislike them.

World Building

Reservoir Dogs is an indie movie and as such it really relies on creativity and talent. And here we have them both. Thanks to his vision, Tarantino managed to create a very authentic movie experience. Although each one of the criminals is an archetype (the traditionalist, the selfish one, the newbie, the crazy one), each one of them is their own person. Seemingly irrelevant scenes allow us to get to know them as humans, and furthermore as multi-dimensional human beings. So at the end you may find yourself feeling compassion for a criminal, questioning the good guys, or even rooting for a bad guy.

So somehow the story here is both simple and complex, it is nuanced and unpredictable. Tarantino doesn’t judge, doesn’t preach, and in his world no one is truly good or truly bad. Things happen because they happen, and justice, fate and chance walk hand in hand.

The Music

When speaking about music in movies, I think the perfect soundtrack falls in one of these two categories: 1 – At the end of the movie you haven’t noticed that there was a soundtrack. Every song, tune, and note was so perfectly chosen that it just melted into the scenes. Or, 2 – At the end of the movie you just have to check who made the soundtrack, and what were the names of those songs. They were that much memorable.

Tarantino’s soundtracks are of the second kind. He is one of these directors that pay really big attention to the music in his movies. And music is not just a background. He is even capable of creating a special scene for a song he likes. This is especially true for Reservoir Dogs where the music is part of the personality of the movie. It creates atmosphere, and adds flavour to the story.

Why is it worth it?

Reservoir Dogs is a cool movie. It is that simple. From the nonsense conversation, through the 70s hits, to the black suits, everything in this movie is class. And class is something that you don’t learn, and no money can buy it for you. Tarantino has enormous cinema knowledge, but most importantly has the sensibility to understand what works and what doesn’t. Reservoir Dogs is both absurd and reliable and it makes you appreciate it as a piece of art rather than just an entertainment.

More from Tarantino

Looking to explore the director’s work further? Check out my review of Death Proof (2007).

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