Reservoir Dogs (1992) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)


For those of you who have never seen a movie before, Reservoir Dogs was director Quentin Tarantino's first film, basically an entry into the pulp-juvenile noir crime story genre, in which bad guys act cool, talk tough, and carve people up graphically, but  not without their own demented code of honor.

The plot is simple. Four anonymous robbers return from a botched crime scene to their rendezvous point. It seems obvious to the most logical of their group that their ranks include an informer. But which one of them is it? Most of the action takes place in the warehouse, where they pace back and forth and try to figure it all out, accusing each other in turn. The most distinctive thing about the heist is that each of the baddies has been assigned a code name, so that he can't do any harm to the others if he is caught. The four main ones are Mr White, Mr Orange, Mr Pink, and Mr Blonde.

The film put Quentin Tarantino on the map because it maintains dramatic tension, and because the crooks were interesting multi-dimensional characters who said unexpected, often funny things.


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The film is now out on a multi-disc DVD, including a scene-specific commentary from several of the people who were involved in the film, including Tarantino. Actually, I'm pretty sure they could have fit the film and the special features on one DVD. The only justification for the second disk is to present a new full-screen version, for those of you who just have to see that 2.35:1 ultra widescreen image panned and scanned down to television size. I'm not sure why you would want this, but it is there, and it is done as well as can be expected, considering that it is a task nigh on to impossible, since it involves cutting an image by more than 40%. (See below. Black lines define the 4:3 version)

The most interesting feature on the new issue is the collection of deleted scenes. It is especially fascinating, because if those scenes were cut back into the film, it would be a very different film. Depending on the exact sequence of the scenes, it would most likely play out as a film about an undercover cop, not as a film about some gangsters with a cop somewhere among them. There is a long scene in which Tim Roth discusses the strategy of the robbery with his superior officer. There is a very long scene in which Roth and his superior discuss Mr White with a fellow officer, a female who has done some significant research. Those two scenes aren't very good to begin with, especially the one with the female officer, in which she tries to be serious about her police work while the senior officer makes some jokes that don't work. More important than the quality of the individual scenes, however, is the fact that they would make Reservoir Dogs a different film, maybe a good movie, but not the one so highly praised. 

I think the film works as well as it does because of the gradual revelation of the identity of the cop to us, and the even more gradual revelation to each of the other characters in turn. This is one of the few movies I've seen where flashbacks are more than simply a cinema cliché; where it is absolutely necessary to keep the facts revealed in the existing sequence. If this story were told in chronological order, it would lose the biggest "hook" that maintains the tension.

Furthermore, the audience's identification with Roth as a cop would spoil the "band of brothers" combat mystique. The final scene, in which Roth tells Keitel he's a cop, thus assuring his own death, doesn't work unless you can believe there has been a genuine bond formed between the two men, in which case it becomes a matter of macho battlefield honor. If you had a clear vision that Roth was a cop, and that his feelings of brotherhood with the others were a complete sham, then the scene would feel false. It only works if Roth is a warrior acknowledging an opposing warrior who fought with honor, not a fake. 

DVD info from Amazon

  • Deleted scenes

  • Two never-before-seen alternate angles of the famous "EAR" scene

  • Tarantino's Sundance Institute Directors Workshop Lab containing rare footage of key scenes rehearsed and filmed by Tarantino one year before the film was made

  • Class of '92: A retrospective look at the Indie films and filmmakers at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival where Reservoir Dogs was introduced

  • All-new interviews with Quentin Tarantino, Lawrence Bender, Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Michael Madsen, Eddie Bunker, Eric Baltz, and others

  • Tribute to Lawrence Tierney

  • Reservoir Dogs director tribute: A focus on nine filmmakers who influenced Tarantino's masterpiece

  • Film Noir Web: The writers and directors behind the legacy of this classic genre, introduction by Tarantino

  • Real-Life Dogs: Interviews with real criminals discussing their heist attempts

  • Small Dogs: Action figure development documentary on the making of those little plastic dudes

  • Select scene audio commentary featuring the cast, the crew, and the critics

  • K-BILLY interactive radio: listen to the super sounds of Steven Wright, as written by Tarantino. with new interview by Gerry Rafferty (stuck in the middle of you)

  • Automobile style guide

  • Securing the shot: location scouting with Billy Fox

  • Poster gallery

  • Full-screen and widescreen anamorphic (2.35) formats, 2 discs

Would a cop really do such a thing? If you asked that question, you don't quite understand Tarantino. Reality is irrelevant here. That's like saying that Superman is a dumb movie because guys can't fly, or that Poker is a dumb game because there's no trump. You may not like the rules, but they are what they are. Reservoir Dogs is not a film about real people doing real things. It is a romanticized warrior's tale, and you have to evaluate it on its own terms, just as you have to evaluate Superman as a film about a flying guy. The characters are not meant to be real. They are created for our entertainment. They are super-villains, like Lex Luthor. Quentin Tarantino is not a former gangster trying to portray the gangster life, or the way the gangsters really talk. In all likelihood, he has met real gangsters, but doesn't even know it, just like the rest of us. He thought they were car dealers or amusement game distributors. This is a movie about movie characters, not a movie about people, and it is a movie about how young men view the denizens of the movie world, not how adults see them. People in these movies don't use reason and polite negotiation. They wave guns at each other and talk macho bullshit. They are 14 year old playground bullies wearing men's bodies. George Lucas once said that he made his movie for nine year olds. After they turn 12, Tarantino gets 'em.

Is that bad? Hell, no. Not at all. Who said films had to be about life? Sometimes we watch films to escape from life. Tarantino entertains a helluva lot of people with his comical banter and his crazy characters, to such a degree that this movie is rated in the top 100 of all time at IMDb, despite the fact that it grossed less than $3 million when it debuted.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three and a half stars. Ebert 2.5/4, Berardinelli 4/4, BBC 4/5, Apollo 87/100, 4/5


The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 8.2/10 (top 70 of all time), Apollo viewers 81/100
  • with their dollars: it was a small movie (budget one million dollars) with no commercial success (gross three million dollars), but it showed that Tarantino could make a vivid, flamboyant, passionate film. By convincing the world of that, he was able to make Pulp Fiction, and Reservoir Dogs itself became a cult hit in the rental market.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C+. Filled with excessive and sadistic violence and talk, plenty of cussing and splatter, it is obviously not a crossover film for mainstream audiences. This is not one to take your family to, or to recommend to your pastor. But it's the king of its own hill. I once wrote that Orson Welles made the greatest B movie of all time with A Touch of Evil. Here's the main contender for the title.

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