Reservoir Dogs

USA, 1993, R, 100 mins. Director: Quentin Tarantino. Stars: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Tierney, Michael Masden.

Reservoir Dogs is so impressive that I hardly know what to say about it. If I praise it to the skies, which it surely deserves, a lot of you will go along only to leave halfway through during one of the most stomach-churning depictions of sadism ever filmed. But it would be remiss of me not to warn you that this is very heavy going at times (and this is from someone who sat through all of Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer).

What's fascinating about Reservoir Dogs is that it doesn't examine violence by dwelling on acts of violence. Rather, it shows the effects of violence, something that doesn't make it into many films today. The film follows a group of criminals after a failed jewellery heist, one of whom is bleeding to death, painfully and graphically. Not many films spend more than thirty seconds showing someone dying, and the effect here is almost unbearable. And only when this has sunk in does Tarantino play his master stroke—the aforementioned scene of sadism, with the viewer now forced to empathise totally with the pain the victim is suffering. All to a jaunty Gerry Rafferty tune. I turn green just thinking about it.

Even more amazingly, Tarantino follows this with twist after twist and emotional extremes of suspense and relief that have rarely been better done. The acting is superlative (from Keitel and Roth in particular); the dialogue reverberates with a wit and realism not heard since Mamet's best; the pace and structure of the film are near-perfect. It all adds up to a modern classic and a stunning debut by director Tarantino: Reservoir Dogs is one of those films, like Citizen Kane and Dances with Wolves, that sets a director apart from the outset. If you think you can stand the blood, don't miss it.


First published in a reviews booklet of the ANU Film Group.
This page: 31 January 2000; last modified 16 February 2001.

©1994, 2000 Rory Ewins