The year is 1992, Quentin Tarantino’s directorial debut, Reservoir Dogs, is released, beginning more than twenty years of Tarantino’s iconic movie formula. The violent movie follows a botched diamond heist, but what sets it apart from other action movies are the erratic flashbacks and exaggerated dramatic energy that add up to create a blunt, bloody, and energetic plot.
The movie commences in an extended breakfast scene pre-robbery, introducing us to the robbers as they discuss the implications of not giving the waitress a tip in an overly crude dialogue that is quintessential Tarantino. The scene drags on until the film suddenly jerks to the bloodsoaked backseat of the getaway car with Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) writhing in pain and clutching desperately to a hemorrhaging gun wound in his belly. As he pleads to be dropped off near a hospital, Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) firmly grasps his hand and lies through his teeth that “no, you’re not going to die” while frantically maneuvering the speeding vehicle to an abandoned warehouse, the robbers’ rendezvous point. Here, chaos ensues as the men try to discern who squealed to the police about their carefully-laid plan.
A large portion of the movie then proceeds inside the main room of the warehouse, but Tarantino manages to make it just as thrilling as if it were taking place throughout an exotic country. Infused with gore, the setting of the warehouse never becomes dull, with Mr. Orange squirming in a growing pool of his own blood and Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen), a trigger-happy psychopath, torturing a captured cop.
The action is also laced with humor including an in-depth analysis of Madonna lyrics at the lunch table. Steve Buscemi’s even takes offense at being named “Mr. Pink,” and an argument ensues over who gets the coolest name. Tarantino of course includes plenty of pop-culture references of the time, such as when Mr. Orange calls one man Marvel Comics’ “The Thing.” The inclusion of the local radio station broadcasting Super Sounds of the Seventies during the violent torture scene serves to make the scene even more excruciating, if not absurd in a way.
Tarantino’s ambitious use of random flashbacks never diminish or distract from the action. What seem like erratic jumps back in time enable us to see a complete picture of each of the men by the end of the movie. Although we discover who the informant is about halfway through the movie, this only increases the tension and makes us lament Keitel’s noble, good-intentioned defense of the undercover cop until the end.
To a generation that has binge-watched Game of Thrones, the violence in Reservoir Dogs is nothing we haven’t seen before. However, the gore and guts only add to the anxiety we feel leading up to the grand finale. Tarantino’s debut film is an ambitious approach to an otherwise overused robbery plot, and he pulls it off with finesse. Coupled with superb acting, Tarantino has made a movie that stands the test of time, outdone only by his future directorial pursuits.