Film Fest 3: 'Reservoir Dogs' (1992)

Film still from Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino, 1992).  Source: http://film-grab.com/2013/11/18/reservoir-dogs/ 

Film still from Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino, 1992).  Source: http://film-grab.com/2013/11/18/reservoir-dogs/ 

By: Beatriz Azevedo


I’d like to say it was difficult for me to pick my favourite film of all time, but I’ve realised quite recently that the feeling I get after watching something that has truly resonated with me, is becoming increasingly rare. So often now when I finish a film I think ‘yeah that was alright’, give it a solid seven on IMdb and move on to the next.  As I look up at my poster of the devilishly handsome Michael Madsen as Mr. Blonde, slurping his soda oh-so-casually, I am reminded that this indifference comes as a result of forever chasing that first high which I felt as I watched Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino, 1992).  


Yes, I just compared watching this 90s smash to taking heroin but that is because I believe, having not done the latter, it is the closest I will ever come to the euphoria described by heroin-enthusiasts. Reservoir Dogs, is a ‘heist’ film (a surprisingly flexible subgenre of the crime film) that tells the story of a group of colour-coded criminals in the aftermath of a botched robbery. As they try to work out exactly what went wrong in the operation, they begin to suspect that they have a rat in their midst. It’s hard for me to set down exactly what it is that’s so brilliant about this film because I could probably give you something to love about each of its ninety-nine glorious minutes. However, I’m going to try to boil it down to the essentials. 


“Let’s go to work.”


Coming out in the early nineties Reservoir Dogs was, alongside Pulp Fiction (1995), a film that sparked an influx of nonlinear filmmaking. Nonlinear narratives are fantastic because they don’t spoon-feed you the plot, and allow for the film to reveal information to you as and when it needs to. As Reservoir Dogs deals with the aftermath of an event, the non-linearism contributes to this narrative piecing together of what happened at the heist, and how each of these men played a part in its failure.

Film still from Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino, 1992). Source: http://film-grab.com/2013/11/18/reservoir-dogs/

Film still from Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino, 1992). Source: http://film-grab.com/2013/11/18/reservoir-dogs/

For me, this is a tool used to deceive the audience into believing they know a few things about these characters, only to have their illusion shattered. The rise and fall (and not necessarily in that order) of each individual within the group, asks you as a spectator to question where your sympathies lie. The opening scene shows the group having breakfast at a greasy spoon, and essentially talking a lot about nothing. Conversation moves quickly from a debate on whether or not Madonna’s Like a Virgin is a ‘metaphor for big dicks’, to an appreciation of seventies music, to the ethics of tipping. However, here the film is cleverly setting up expectations for how the audience perceives these men. Some we believe to be cool, some we believe to be pushovers, some will be central to the plot, and others we predict might not be around for long. In my viewing, most of these first impressions were reversed, some challenged, and some I am still struggling with today. 

Film still from Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino, 1992). Source: http://film-grab.com/2013/11/18/reservoir-dogs/

Film still from Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino, 1992). Source: http://film-grab.com/2013/11/18/reservoir-dogs/

The casting is spot on. Michael Madsen seems to effortlessly fall into the role of Mr Blonde whose nonchalance makes him one of the coolest cats in cinema history. Steve Buscemi gives one of his most memorable performances as Mr Pink, who is equal parts arrogant and pathetic. Tim Roth as Mr Orange is cool enough to pull off the character’s commanding presence, yet tiny enough to portray his insecurities and fears in the face of death. 


Among the many things to commend this film for, if ever there was a soundtrack worth downloading, it’s this one. The whole narrative takes place over the course of a week in which DJ K Billy is dropping one classic seventies hit after another in an onscreen, themed radio segment entitled ‘K Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies.’ Stealer’s Wheels’ upbeat ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’ can never be heard in the same way again after watching the iconic scene that it’s become associated with. I mean, I would recommend watching the whole film just to listen to the shocker they chose to accompany the closing credits. 


Visually, the film is exciting and innovative, and the shots are as cool as the costumes (which from my experience make a great last-minute Halloween costume). You’ve got tracking shots, P.O.V, 360 circling, handheld - one of my favourite camera moves is the creeping zoom out, used just at the climax of Mr White and Mr Pink’s fight, which very slowly introduces an onlooker to the scene. 

Film still from Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino, 1992). Source: http://film-grab.com/2013/11/18/reservoir-dogs/ An example of the variety of techniques used to shoot this film. This shot is achieved using a lens called a split focus diopter (like a magnifying glass cut in half) to create the illusion of deep focus.

Film still from Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino, 1992). Source: http://film-grab.com/2013/11/18/reservoir-dogs/

An example of the variety of techniques used to shoot this film. This shot is achieved using a lens called a split focus diopter (like a magnifying glass cut in half) to create the illusion of deep focus.

I could go on, but as this cult classic is currently on Netflix, that makes right now the perfect time to indulge in some snappy dialogue and gratuitous violence. And if you don’t have a Netflix account, I will lend you my DVD.