Updated: Mar 30
It’s hard to know where to start when writing about a Tarantino flick. If you know a thing or two about film, you no doubt have a concrete opinion on Quentin Tarantino and every one of his movies. Shit, even if you don’t know dick about movies you probably have a solid opinion on which is better: Kill Bill Vol. 1 or Vol. 2 (the correct answer is you’re supposed to really see them as one complete movie, or, Vol. 1 is better). Regardless of your aptitude towards the silver screen, a Tarantino flick has no doubt graced your eyeballs. Over his twenty-five year legacy Tarantino has risen to the mainstream blockbuster level without ever watering his films down. If anything, his work has grown more and more complex. Tarantino constantly puts out movies that subvert your expectations, unlike anything else out there. He’s his own genre; a culmination of pulp and noir with a dash of revenge, that all create a film that draws us out to the theater so that we can see “that new Tarantino joint.” The Quentin Tarantino phenomenon all begins with a little low-budget darling called, Reservoir Dogs.
“K-Billy’s super sounds of the 70’s weekend just keeps on truckin’…”
In 1992, Reservoir Dogs graced the Sundance stage and although it didn’t win any of the festivals awards, it was the talk of the show. The film was made with a $1.8 million budget and generated $2.8 million at the box office. Tarantino originally planned to make the flick with $30,000 in a 16mm black and white format. Described as a “dialogue driven heist movie,” the film became something mainstream audiences had never expected. The film’s infamous torture scene made Michael Madsen (Mr. Blonde) so uncomfortable during filming he had trouble shooting the scene. With such a limited budget, Reservoir Dogs makes the most of its 1.8 million dollars. The warehouse that serves as the group’s post-heist meet-up spot was actually an old mortuary, the upstairs of which became Mr. Orange’s (Tim Roth) apartment. The film’s budget did not allow for police traffic control, so in the scene where Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) is running from the cops and forces a woman from her car, it could only be filmed while all the traffic lights were green. For future filmmakers Reservoir Dogs outlines how to make an incredible movie with an incredibly small budget.
The structure of Reservoir Dogs becomes the template for most of Tarantino’s future films. Its main plot moves linearly – the cold open at a diner is the true beginning of the tale Tarantino is telling – the ending being the now legendary standoff in the warehouse. However, the use of flashbacks makes the film flow non-linearly. Flashbacks are used not only to fill in the gaps and give the audience context for our ensemble of characters, but also as a way to give context to the film thematically. The flashbacks themselves range drastically: from seeing Mr. Pink outrun cops after the heist goes awry, to seeing Mr. White or Mr. Blonde’s relationship to kingpin Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney), to the film’s entire last act, the twenty minute flashback where we learn how an undercover cop, infiltrates a crew of thieves. Future Tarantino movies build on this structure and in cases like Pulp Fiction, become completely non-linear. This style creates a plot that uses the sum of all its parts. We skip the road that gets us to the end quickly; instead we take the scenic route, still getting to the destination right on time.
There is one very important scene we never see in Reservoir Dogs: the actual heist. Two major themes of the movie are anonymity and ambiguity. Our group of shit-talking thieves only knows each other (at least at first) by their code names. The reason for this is control and protection; if anyone involved gets caught by the cops they can’t rat out the rest of the group. When Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) just mentions a sports team he won a bet on, members of the team get a clue to where he is from. Staying anonymous is tantamount to survival in the film. The opening of the film gives us characters without letting us learn their origin stories or full relationships to Joe Cabot. What we do learn is their opinions on Madonna and tipping waitresses, and that’s enough to teach the audience just exactly who these people are. The ambiguity of the heist scene makes it far more effective. Hearing that Mr. Blonde “went psycho” and shot unarmed civilians makes his appearance later in the film that much more terrifying; we learn how dangerous this man sipping on soda is by the other character’s reaction to him. Learning, slowly, about just how wrong the heist goes helps us keep up with the characters emotionally. The heist is given to us in bits and pieces; it’s a muddled story that would’ve been far too clear if we were to actually see it. The heat of confusion, and just how fucked everything that went down (in that five minutes we didn’t actually see) is fully expressed by dialogue, more so than if we witnessed the shoot out.
Reservoir Dogs is Tarantino’s origin story as a filmmaker. It’s the DNA where all his films derive from. Though his films have become more complex with even bigger budgets, while his skills as an artist have grown over the last of twenty-five years, Reservoir Dogs still stands the test of time as an incredible film, because Tarantino’s brand of storytelling remains timeless.
Robert has a degree in Screenwriting and Playwriting and works in multiple genres. He's just your typical man-child who enjoys most things nerd culture. You can follow him on Twitter @RoBaeBae