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Reservoir Dogs

March 29, 2007

Tony Scott, the brother of noted director Ridley Scott( Gladiator), met a video store clerk, in Los Angeles , in 1992. The clerk himself a long time fan of Scott, gave him some sample screenplays. Scott was impressed by two of them. However while the clerk, gave him the rights to one of them, he insisted, that he would direct the other one himself. Scott ended up making True Romance, which itself was a major success. It was however the other script, which would end up creating history. Though having no experience in movie making, the clerk directed this movie, with help from one of the lead actors, and on release, it was a runaway success, and achieved cult classic status of it’s own.

The clerk- Quentin Tarantino

The movie- Reservoir Dogs

What made a normal gory heist movie, not only achieve cult classic status, but also inspire similar movies like The Usual Suspects, Memento? How did a movie shot on a shoe string budget of a million dollars, and having no major stars, achieve success? What was so appealing about this movie, that in fact, I had once come up with a full fledged quiz on this movie only?

Reservoir Dogs is basically the story of a jewelry store heist planned out by a father son duo of Joe Cabot( Lawrence Tierney) and his son “Nice Guy” Eddie Cabot( Chris Penn) . 6 men are chosen for this purpose and they are given color codes.

Mr White-Harvey Keitel
Mr Brown-Quentin Tarantino
Mr Orange-Tim Roth
Mr Blonde-Michael Madsen
Mr Pink-Steve Buscemi.

The movie begins with Joe, Eddie and the 6 men at a restaurant having dinner. Brown goes into a discussion on Madonna’s famous song “Like A Virgin”, while Pink shows his displeasure at tipping. And then to the tune of the “Little Green Bag” , we have the shot of the gang walking in slow motion. Yes the same has been imitated in our desi version Kaante too. The heist goes seriously wrong, and Brown is killed in the process, while Orange has been injured badly.

So that leaves White, Blonde and Pink . The problem is, one of the 6 men is a cop. Who is the odd man out? Who survives the heist? What happens next? Well don’t want to give out the plot in detail, because this is something that needs to be watched.

For starters Reservoir Dogs is not totally original. And Tarantino himself admits so. Being a big fan of French noir, Hong Kong martial movies, the director takes a lot of influences from them. As well as from some B movie thrillers. For instance the 70’s flick, The Taking of Pelham 1,2,3 was from where Tarantino, picked up the color codes idea. The 1987 Hong Kong flick City on Fire , was a major influence on several key plot points, especially the Mexican stand off in the climax. Again the use of popular songs as musical backdrop, was a homage to Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket .

The movie runs on a kind of a non linear structure, which could be a bit confusing, but that is what makes it interesting. The entire premise of the movie is built on a single query “Who is the cop?”, and by switching between flashback and normal mode, it succeeds in keeping the viewer guessing. Reservoir Dogs is a movie where every scene has to be observed carefully, because each flashback, throws hints to the user, about who could be the odd man out in the group. Being shot on a shoe string budget, the movie could not afford, elaborate car chase sequences or big explosions.

And that’s where Tarantino steps in, by intelligent use of red herrings, and sharp cutting dialogue, he still keeps the viewer, involved right till the end. You become as desperate as the crooks, to know, who could be the cop. Two outstanding sequences are the climax Mexican standoff, and the notorious torture sequence. Now the famous ear cutting sequence, here we don’t have the shot of the actual act, in fact the camera pans away, when Mr Blonde starts it. We simply see Blonde’s back, and the officer’s muffled screams beneath the tape. And that in effect makes it really chilling.

But yes the movie does have a very high gore content. Men getting shot, people being tortured, blood flowing liberally, not for people who are squeamish. But what elevates the movie above the standard gore fest, is an intelligent screenplay, tight editing and memorable characterization. As also the way in which Tarantino , puts together the different pieces of the puzzle. There were many movies which were poor imitations of this, but very few of them, had the sheer energy and intelligence of this movie. Most of them focused only on the gore, but forget the dialog and screenplay. Nor did they give any attention to the characterization or interplay between the characters. The movie does not have any big stars, but 3 of these are well known.

Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen and Steve Buscemi are not big stars in Hollywood, but as performers they are brilliant. They are like Manoj Bajpai, Kay Kay Menon and Irfan Khan , excellent actors, but not big stars.

Harvey Keitel is Mr White , one of the ring leaders. He had appeared in many Scorsese flicks like Mean Streets, Taxi Driver as well as Coppola’s Apocalypse Now . He is first rate, especially in the climax scene.

The best performance would be by the underrated Michael Madsen as the sadistic Mr Blonde . Ironically in real life, Madsen hates violence, and he had difficulty in filming that scene. But you watch him doing a song and dance, and then cutting off the officer’s ear with a glee, you are thankful, that its not you.

Steve Buscemi who is familiar with us in movies like Con Air and Armageddon, usually, playing a psychic character, is Mr.Pink here. As the trouble shooter in the gang, he is brilliant, as usual. Reservoir Dogs is a movie that needs to be seen by every movie lover, and for any one planning to direct a movie for first time, this is indeed one of the best lessons you could ever get.
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