Thursday, March 9, 2017

Reservoir Dogs at 25

By Steve Evans

Reservoir Dogs is 25 years old, which makes me older still. A vicious little brute of a film. Also hilarious. The corkscrew plot is a stew of ingredients from other movies, like Kubrick's The Killing and Huston's The Asphalt Jungle, both made in the 1950s, though especially Ringo Lam's City on Fire (1987). Naming tuff-guy characters after colors ("Yeah? Well Mr. Pink sounds like Mr. Pussy") comes straight from The Taking of Pelham 123 -- the 1974 original, naturally, with Robert Shaw and Walter Matthau. Maybe that's why Tarantino's film is so good: he pilfered from the best. It was his first completed and released picture, and today is still his second best. This movie is sly.

Even the title is a smartass hipster joke. Years ago, when Tarantino clerked at a video rental store, a couple of hicks came in and began browsing. One of the customers picked up the Louis Malle film Au Revoir les Infants (Goodbye, Children) and asked Tarantino, "Hey, what's this movie reservoir dawgs?" 

In the early 1990s, Tarantino's acting coach was Harvey Keitel's wife. She took Tarantino's script to Keitel, who put up some money to produce and leveraged his casting in the film to raise more funds. The whole project came in around $1.2 million and earned back slightly more than twice that at the box office. But the film became a cult hit, spurring $22 million-plus in home-video sales.

What other fun facts can I share? The jewel robbers in this heist flick all wear the same black suits and skinny ties, a fashion statement also made in an obscure Jayne Mansfield crime film, Dog Eat Dog (1964). That film's title served as the name of the production company set up for Reservoir Dogs. The Mansfield picture is delightfully trashy. Insane, really. Read more about it here.

I was in grad' school when I saw Reservoir Dogs on its original 1992 release at a long-gone arthouse cinema in Virginia. My first reaction was "wow." And then I thought, yeah, he's cherry picked from films throughout cinema history to make this one, but this Tarantino knows how to meld music and image like nobody else. This was before he fell so in love with his own dialog he forgot when to cut a scene. That's a shame because his two Oscars for screenwriting suggest he's one of the best film writers alive. Tarantino just doesn't know when to shaddup -- and that's my only real criticism. Well, and he's derivative far beyond the blanket excuse of paying homage. He's still one of only two directors whose films I always see in a theater proper, Scorsese being the other. Tarantino films are entertaining as hell. Half the fun of watching them is dissecting the collage of influences he's slapped together. 

Reservoir Dogs almost single-handedly brought about the resurrection of the indie film, even though it polarized viewers at Sundance. You love or you hate this film. These dogs do not elicit a ho-hum response.

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