The story of Tarantinos
films begins with Reservoir Dogs, which was released in 1992 and was
his cinematic debut despite being his third full-length script. This
film was also the debut of the director of photography, Polish born
Harvey Keitel was central to the production of this movie. Not only
did he co-produce it, helping to raise the necessary funds, but having
an Oscar nominee starring in the film also helped to create interest
in the project (Keitel was nominated for best supporting acting for
his role in Bugsy (Levinson, 1991)). Keitel said of the Dogs script,
I thought it was one of the best things I ever read. He
also thought it was both intricate and beautiful,
and appreciated the fact that it dealt with issues such as betrayal
and trust (4).
The film managed to garner eight awards, not a bad haul for a debut.
These included Newcomer of the Year at the London Critics Circle Film
Awards and Prix Tournage at the Avignon Film Festival.
Tarantino spent a year overseas promoting the film and this, coupled
with a lot of commotion about the violence portrayed in the movie, led
to it getting quite a reputation.
Reservoir Dogs is essentially about a group of criminals assembled to
pull off a diamond heist. This heist goes badly wrong and the film concentrates
on the aftermath while also cleverly referring back to events which
occurred prior to the heist using a series of titled flashbacks.
The cornerstone of this film is good characterisation. For this to work
you need two prime ingredients; a good writer and damn fine actors.
Both of these ingredients were present in the creation of Reservoir
The cast of this film were vital in making it work. They are its life-blood
and without their strong performances this film could have suffered
from a severe case of rigor mortis. They all play their parts perfectly,
one of the most notable being Michael Madsen as the psychopathic Mr
Blonde. As Roger Ebert says, Madsen emerges with the kind of really
menacing screen presence only few actors achieve (9).
Steve Buscemi is the lively and quirky Mr Pink and we also see great
performances from Harvey Keitel as Mr White, Tim Roth as Mr Orange,
Chris Penn as Nice Guy Eddie, and Lawrence Tierney as the crime boss,
Joe Cabot. Chris Penn stated that he was totally submerged
in the character he played (10), and this comes through on screen.
Quentin Tarantino also has a small part, playing Mr Brown, his character
stating that the alias is a little too close to Mr Shit,
this being a good example of the humour included in the films
The title Reservoir Dogs conjures up images of feral dogs, ones that
hunt in packs, are separate from normal society and live beyond its
rules. As Pam Grier, star of Jackie Brown, comments, they fight
theyre the ones whove suffered the most
who understand what survival really means. (X) The first scene
of the movie when we are introduced to the heist gang seated in a café
immediately fulfils the expectations which have been raised by the title.
The characterisation begins in earnest in this first scene. The gang
are talking about songs by Madonna. Tarantino is immediately introducing
popular culture into the film, something the audience can both understand
and enjoy due to its humorous content. This introduction informs the
audience that this will not be a traditional crime Film Noir as this
genre does not usually include popular culture references. This type
of scene has also been echoed in other gangster films that followed
Reservoir Dogs, such as Things to do in Denver When Youre Dead
The mixing of popular culture with the crime genre was something the
audience hadnt seen before to this extent. It makes the characters
more recognisable as real people because they are talking
about the things that we all talk about, such as music and television
programs. At the same time the use of aliases places them in a kind
of caricature status, mere representations of real people, relating
them to typical criminals like those weve seen in numerous other
This juxtaposition of the stereotypical with the original is a clever
strategy employed by Tarantino. It causes us to question previous stereotypes
weve witnessed on the cinema screen and question the reality
of such characters. It also creates more intrigue in regards to the
truth behind the characters, beyond the surface of the aliases. It makes
us wonder about their real selves, parts of which are revealed
to us in the snappy, pop culture referencing dialogue. This dialogue
consists of their real opinions, is a hint of what lies
beneath the masks of names such as Mr White and Mr Pink. Most crime
films do not display such a depth of character, and one that is all
the more striking in this film because it arises despite the superficial
nature of the aliases.
In relation to the dialogue, Tarantino could be regarded as the low
art version of Woody Allen. Both use extensive dialogue to build characterisation,
but Tarantinos is loaded with pop culture references and profanities.
There is a clear post modern mix of high and low
art apparent in Reservoir Dogs. Tarantino successfully uses both popular
culture (low art) and traditional literary techniques (high
art), which blend extremely well to create a tense and gripping Film
Noir. These literary techniques include the use of chapter titles and
a non-linear narrative, which can usually be found in novels rather
than in films. This use of high art techniques can be seen
to be linked to Tarantinos influences, such as Stanley Kubricks
The Killing (1956), which utilises non-linearity and is especially relevant
to Jackie Brown, as we shall see in Chapter Eight. Kubricks film
concerns an apparently foolproof plan to rob a racetrack. This plan
unravels because of an unexpected event and therefore shares plot similarity
with Reservoir Dogs, along with its non-linear narrative elements.