The Only Good Rat is a Dead One
Wit and f-bombs aside, the film's basic premise is something we're all familiar with. It opens with a scene at a diner where eight men are having breakfast. Humor is at an all time high as they discuss "Like a Virgin". Once we've relaxed into the easy pace of the story, Tarantino hits us with the clincher. Six the eight men are actually criminals and they have been hired by Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney), a crime boss with a plan for the perfect diamond heist. Each of them a stranger, they are given colorful aliases, literally. Mr. Pink hates his name for obvious reasons.
With no messy personal relationships to distract them from the goal, it seems like things will go smoothly. And they do, right until the time the police show up. Two of them get killed in a shootout, taking some cops and civilians with them. The timing certainly reveals a lot. There's obviously a rat in the group. Paranoia is in no short supply as the remaining criminals attempt to find the one who sold them out. Is there an undercover cop in the group? Are they going to get away unscathed? The film keeps them all (and, most especially us viewers) guessing with a series of flashbacks.
No Strangers to the Limelight
Reservoir Dogs proves that Tarantino is a filmmaking genius. He's not afraid to take risks and follow through with great panache. He's also as comfortable in front of the camera as he is behind it and this gives him an advantage when communicating with his actors. He doesn't just stick to tried and tested rules, he breaks them and succeeds. As a result, his stars all have a chance to shine. Harvey Keitel who plays Mr. White, for instance, nails the paternal role perfectly while still managing to seem tough. Speaking of tough, Lawrence Tierney's performance adds a level of authenticity to the film. It's not so much the fact that he's no stranger to the inside, it's that he delivers his lines with conviction.
Another noteworthy performance comes from Michael Madsen who plays the sadistic Mr. Blonde. He is downright menacing as he tortures a hostage with a straight razor. The rest of the cast all do well too, with Tim Roth (a.k.a. Mr. Orange) having to act wounded and doing a stellar job at it. All in all, it's what Ocean's Twelve and Ocean's Thirteen could have been if Steven Soderbergh cared beyond filling his cast with big name actors.
A Different Take
Crime movies are aplenty, with high budget television shows filling up the gaps for true blue fans. However, it's not every day you get to see something as raw as Reservoir Dogs. No, it's not just the cuss words that will catch your attention (they surely will, especially if you've been keeping to the classics), it's the bold pacing and the violence that has since become Tarantino's signature. Finally, a film that doesn't attempt to please everybody while still managing to succeed in turning heads.
While there are plenty of surprises, there is not one scene that seems tacked on or contrived. You won't see things getting resolved just because, coincidentally, two characters have mothers with the same name (we're looking at you, Zack Snyder). Things get bloody, sometimes downright cringe-worthy but you'll keep coming back for more. Of all the good things about this film, it's only minor things that keep it from being perfect. Overacting, talking too much and the hint of an accent -- none of these really matter when you're having a heck of a good time. Watch Reservoir Dogs if you're into edgy films. It challenged standards of its time and continues to do so in this decade of flashy movie clones.