Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs" is a movie I had heard much about, but never got around to watching until last night. All the hallmarks of Tarantino are well and truly present - copious gunplay, copious bloodshed and copious profanity - but under it all, there's an interesting story, too. A jewel heist goes horribly wrong, and the six men who carried it out (and their two employers) are left wondering which one of them ratted the team out.
Tarantino does well in condensing a complex story - preparation of the heist, the heist itself (which is never shown), and the aftermath - in a shade under 100 minutes and a shade over $1 million dollars. Such limited resources help trim the fat off what might have been a standard crime-gone-wrong film, and instead focuses on the psychology of the damage control. You've got Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi), who is scared out of his mind but desperately trying to hold things together. There's Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), who does have honor among thieves. Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) lingers at death's door for most of the movie, while Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) carries a straight razor in his boot and loves the oldies.
Their distinct personalities is what makes this movie come alive, and the interplay between the actors - whether they're yelling profanities at each other, pointing guns at each other, trying to reason with one another, or doing a little dance before some facial surgery - keeps the action moving. True to Tarantino's form, the movie is not told linearly, with numerous flashbacks showing how the main characters got where they were. It does peg the pace back a notch, and in a movie only 98 minutes long, the start-stop approach tends towards the tiresome. But that's Tarantino for you. Don't expect anything different.
The majority of the action takes place in an unremarkable warehouse, but Tarantino's vision and talent makes it look like an art gallery. The way his people move, stand, sit, dance and die - and the way Tarantino and cinematographer Andrzej Sekula capture it, frame it and show it - demonstrate Tarantino's passion for what he had in mind with this movie, small running time and limited budget notwithstanding. That is really the secret behind the success, and the success itself, of this movie - it's a simple story told very well. A job goes wrong, someone on the inside is a traitor, and the survivors have to figure out who it was. Bearing down on them are the cops on one side, and the heist's masterminds, Joe and Eddie Cabot (Lawrence Tierney and Chris Penn respectively). There are no explosions, no love interests or steamy sex scenes (probably because there are no female characters in the story), precious few crime movie/gangster movie clichés - just an interesting story told with interesting characters.
If you like your crime movies with an ugly slice of realism and a healthy dose of black humor, "Reservoir Dogs" is your number.