The Sundance Film Festival is currently taking place in Utah so, for this week, I’m reviewing films that either premiered, won awards at, or otherwise made a splash at Sundance! Today, I take a look at 1992’s Reservoir Dogs, which premiered at that year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Technically, I guess I’m obligated to start this review with a spoiler alert. Though, seriously, is there anyone out there who hasn’t seen Reservoir Dogs? I guess that there may be. But surely, even if you haven’t seen it, you know everything that happens in the movie. You know about the Like A Virgin conversation at the start of the movie. You know about the ear scene. You’ve seen countless parodies of that scene where the cast walks down the street in slow motion. I find it hard to believe that there are people who don’t know everything about this film but still, I guess it’s always a possibility.
Reservoir Dogs is a challenging film to review, though not because it’s overly complicated or difficult to follow. Instead, the problem is that it’s hard to know what’s left to say about Reservoir Dogs. Just about every crime film that has come out in my lifetime has owed an obvious debt to Reservoir Dogs. It’s the film that launched the directorial career of Quentin Tarantino. It’s also features one of the greatest acting ensembles in the history of American film: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Steve Buscemi, Chris Penn, Kirk Baltz, and Lawrence Tierney. Tierney’s presence was especially important. By appearing in the film, the veteran tough guy actor passed on the torch of hard-boiled crime to a new generation.
At its most basic, Reservoir Dogs is a heist film. It employs the type of jumbled timeline that has become a Tarantino trademark. The film starts with a group of 8 criminals eating breakfast and preparing to rob a jewelry store. Then it jumps forward to immediately after the crime, with Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) shot in the gut and Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) desperately trying to get them both to the safety of a warehouse. That’s where they are joined by Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi). Mr. Pink is convinced that they were set up. He rants about being a professional. He asks if Mr. White had to shoot anyone during his escape.
“A few cops,” Mr. White says.
“No real people?” Mr. Pink replies.
Eventually, Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) shows up. We already know, from the film’s first scene, that Mr. Blonde strongly feels that everyone should tip their waitress. After he arrives at the warehouse, we discover that he also likes good music and torturing hostages. Meanwhile, the robbery’s mastermind, Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney) and his son, Eddie (Chris Penn), are also on their way to the warehouse. Neither one is happy about how things are going.
And while all this goes on, Mr. Orange continues to bleed in the background…
Reservoir Dogs is known for being a violent film and, even though the movie is 26 years old, some of the violence can still catch you off-guard and make you flinch. The scene where Mr. Blonde chops off the cop’s ear is still not easy to watch. However, the scene that always freaks me out is when Mr. White starts shooting at a police car and the windshield is suddenly smeared with blood. Mr. White is one of the film’s more sympathetic characters but he doesn’t hesitate to kill.
Of course, I think it could also be argued that Reservoir Dogs is actually as close as Tarantino has come to making a film that condemns violence. Not counting the flashbacks, the story largely plays out in real time, which means that we basically spend the entire movie watching and listening as Mr. Orange slowly bleeds to death in front of us.
I rewatched Reservoir Dogs for this review and I have to say that I was really surprised to see how well the film holds up. I was honestly expecting to be a little bit bored with it, just because I’d already seen it multiple times and I knew who the cop would turn out to be. I already had all of the film’s great lines memorized. But, as soon as the film started with everyone arguing about Like A Virgin and whether or not to tip their waitress, I was sucked back into Tarantino’s world. Once again, I found myself laughing at Steve Buscemi’s brilliant delivery of the line: “Why am I Mr. Pink?” I was enthralled all over again by Tim Roth’s nervous intensity and Harvey Keitel’s weary integrity. Even Michael Madsen’s psycho routine felt fresh, despite the fact that he’s played numerous cool-as-ice psychos over the course of his career. Even the way Chris Penn told the story about Lady E still made me laugh.
(To be honest, the line that makes me laugh the most in Reservoir Dogs — and don’t ask me why because I’m not sure of the exact reason — is when the unseen cop who is heard to say, “Yeah, give me the bearclaw,” while following Eddie’s car.)
It’s just a cool movie. How can you resist this?
What happen at the end of the film? Well, we all know the basics. (And here’s where that probably unnecessary spoiler alert comes into play.) Mr. White kills Joe and Eddie, all to protect Mr. Orange. Mr. Pink runs from the warehouse. The seriously wounded Mr. White cradles the dying Orange in his arms. Orange confesses to being a cop. Mr. White lets out a wail of both physical and emotional pain. The police enter the warehouse and order Mr. White to drop his gun. Mr. White shoots Orange in the head and is then gunned down by the police.
But what happened to Mr. Pink?
That’s a serious question because Mr. Pink is my favorite member of this band of robbers. (He gets all the best lines, probably because Tarantino was planning on playing the role himself before Steve Buscemi auditioned.) A lot of people will tell you that they can hear Mr. Pink being arrested outside of the warehouse, shortly before the cops come in and kill Mr. White. And yes, I realize that, in at least one draft of the script, that’s exactly what happened.
Well, I don’t care. We don’t actually see Mr. Pink getting arrested. We don’t hear him getting shot. As far as I’m concerned, Mr. Pink made it out of there alive and managed to escape with the diamonds. The police may have yelled at him to stop but, in the end, they were too busy killing Mr. White to keep an eye on him. Mr. Pink escaped and is currently living on the beach somewhere. As a result of selling the diamonds, he’s now financially comfortable but he still doesn’t tip his waitress. That’s just the way Mr. Pink is.
Finally, one little bit of trivia: Reservoir Dogs may have premiered at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival but it didn’t win any awards at the end of it. Instead, the big winner that year was a comedy called In The Soup. The star of that film? Steve Buscemi.
Previous Sundance Film Reviews: