Reservoir Dogs – Aliases Scene
(Anne Billson in The Telegraph’s original 1993 review) There is a traditional wisdom that one of the easiest ways of making a low-budget movie is to stick a limited number of characters in a room. On the one hand, you get something like Sex, Lies and Videotape, in which they sit around, wittering on about personal relationships. On the other, you get Reservoir Dogs, in which they swear a lot, pump each other full of bullets, and bleed all over the floor. Guess which sort I prefer.
Essentially, this bloody chamber piece is a heist movie, but debut writer-director Quentin Tarantino (who also plays a minor role) tampers with the chronology and turns it into a post-mortem. We start off with a pre-robbery breakfast, skip to the aftermath of the bungled job, and then – while the survivors are trying to work out what went wrong and whether one of them is an undercover cop – the film fills in vital information via an assortment of flashbacks. This is an ambitious structure, but Tarantino pulls it off with panache.
Harvey Keitel, who 24 years ago appeared in Martin Scorsese’s debut feature, is still supporting first-timers. Here he earns an executive producer credit as well as acting as one of the robbers. The other parts are equally well cast. They include Tim Roth, doing a masterly impersonation of a man bleeding to death, and Michael Madsen, giving a chilling portrayal of a total psychopath.
The crooks have concealed their true identities from one another, but every last one of them suffers from too much testosterone. There are f-words, c-words and sh-words galore, but, in its own zany way, this slice of latterday Grand Guignol takes an extremely moral stance. It suggests that being shot in the stomach is not the neat process we usually see in Hollywood action thrillers. It suggests that if you give guns to men who behave as though they’re still in the playground, a lot of people are going to get hurt.
It is also very funny. They may not realise it, but these are post-modernist felons. They dress like the Blues Brothers, deconstruct Madonna lyrics, squabble over who gets the coolest sounding code-name and wind each other up with sneers of, “Bet you’re a big Lee Marvin fan, ain’t you?” Perhaps it’s a bit too knowing in places, and perhaps it packs in one pop cultural reference too many, but this is an in-your-face, look-at-me kind of debut, designed to function as the calling-card of a major new talent. There is an excruciating torture scene made even more excruciating by its being set to Stuck in the Middle with You by Stealers Wheel – the local radio station is broadcasting Super Sounds of the Seventies, which may be an indication of where Tarantino’s heart lies.
Reservoir Dogs reminds you of the best cinema of that decade – perhaps the Last Great Decade of Cinema – when film could still be raw, exciting and deliciously different.