Steven Soderbergh may have brought independent cinema to the forefront, but it was Quentin Tarantino who brought it kicking and screaming into the mainstream in 1992 with Reservoir Dogs, a riveting heist film that does not show the heist.
The plot concerns six strangers brought together by crime boss Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney) to rob a jewellery store of its diamonds. After the robbery goes horribly wrong, confusion reigns at the rendezvous point where they believe there is a rat within their group as the film takes a non-liner structure – edited exceptionally by Sally Menke – between the aftermath of the robbery, the rendezvous point, and the introduction of key characters, most notably a seasoned criminal (Harvey Keitel), a just released con (Michael Madsen), and an undercover cop (Tim Roth).
Tarantino is a filmmaker who wears his influences on his sleeve (Martin Scorsese, Sam Peckinpah) yet he also brings his own hyperkinetic energy to the proceedings. This is especially felt though his writing which is sharp, funny, and features pop references galore.
Two key scenes demonstrate Tarantino’s style. The first is a round table discussion which opens the film, and features Tarantino (in a minor role) discussing the true meaning behind Madonna’s song “Like a Virgin”, and then turns into an hilarious spiel by Steve Buscemi about the ethics of tipping.
The second scene is a dramatization of Tim Roth’s undercover cops amusing antidote about a fictional brush with the law, which his character uses to break the ice with the criminal gang he is attempting to infiltrate.
Tarantino also has a penchant for the violent, as Reservoir Dogs is also an extremely bloody affair highlighted with a scene featuring the beating and torture of a police officer, which concludes with an off screen severing of said cop’s ear to the sounds of Stealer’s Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle with You”. The scene was highly controversial, and sparked outrage and walkouts at various showings.
The acting and actors on hand are exceptional, and features breakthrough turns by Steve Buscemi as a jittery chatter box, Michael Madsen who evokes old school tough guy cool, and British Tim Roth who is great as the undercover Los Angeles Police Detective who forms a bond with no BS criminal played incredibly well by Harvey Keitel.
Other memorable roles are played by Sean Penn’s younger brother Chris Penn, real life criminal Eddie Bunker and notorious B-grade 1950s Hollywood brawler/actor Lawrence Tierney.
Also, a groovy soundtrack adequately heightens key scenes while providing toe tapping enjoyment.