In the grand scheme of all things Quentin Tarantino, Reservoir Dogs is not his best work. Sure, it exhibits his trademark wit, crass, and twisted sense of humor in a few Quent-essential scenes, like the diner analysis of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” (with Sean Penn’s now dead brother Chris sitting there listening but not contributing) and Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) making a Van Gogh out of Officer Marvin Nash (Kirk Baltz) while blaring Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle with You.” Tarantino does a great job assembling memorable characters and setting up an uncomplicated plot. Smartly, he focuses on the aftermath instead of the failed heist itself, dropping only breadcrumbs of info about what exactly went down.
The problem is that for all its charm, Reservoir Dogs just doesn’t bring enough energy; the plot and the characters feel sketchy and underdeveloped. Tarantino relies heavily on dialogue that can’t sustain the whole film; the characters– especially Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) and Mr. White (Harvey Keitel)– talk and yell and kvetch an awful lot while not much actually happens. After not seeing it for over a decade, I was surprised at how long it took to get going. As Tarantino’s first directing job– his “lost” 1987 film My Best Friend’s Birthday, which sort of became the script for True Romance, doesn’t count– Reservoir Dogs is most interesting because it shows a pivotal voice still in development.
I loved it when it came out (I was 21 or 22 years old), and Reservoir Dogs is a respectable start– hell, it’s iconic and better than a lot of movies. Hindsight is 20/20, though, and seeing it again demonstrates that Tarantino’s best work was yet to come. Indeed, his very next film, Pulp Fiction, is lightyears ahead in style and substance: it’s tighter, far more cohesive, and has a lot more pizzaz. What a difference two years makes.
(Music Box) B