Debut films are either meant to be minimalist or else overambitious and thus cringingly inept. They’re not expected to take all of the plaudits at Sundance film festival before storming to cult status and igniting a worldwide debate about the morality of screen violence. With Reservoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantino started as he meant to go on- as an auteur who does whatever he wants to do.
Telling the story of a heist gone wrong held little appeal to such a visual filmmaker, versed in film culture. If he wants to throw an in-depth exposition of the lyrics to a Madonna song in to the film, along with the problems faced by women working on minimum wage and a discussion on the ethics of paying service charges… then he will!
Filmmaking wisdom says that the easiest way to make a low-budget film is to put a limited number of characters in one room and just make them talk. This has led to a number of talkie, relationship films where they dissect the meaning of minute in explicable detail… and Reservoir Dogs, in which people swear, pump bullets into each other and bleed all over the floor.
Personally, I don’t like violence on screen, it isn’t something that I enjoy watching- hand to hand combat and guns can ruin my experience of a film because I’m just not enjoying myself whilst its happening. But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a good film that includes it.
This is one of those films.
Not just a bloody chamber piece, the film is a post-mortem of a heist gone wrong. We start with a pre-robbery breakfast and skip immediately to the aftermath of the bungled job where the survivors attempt to work out what went wrong and vital information is filled in for the audience via an assortment of flashbacks. It’s a hugely ambitious structure that is often aped by the film students of today… not always so well…
The film is exquisitely well cast; with Harvey Keitel as one of the robbers; Tim Roth genuinely looking like he’s bleeding to death and Michael Madsen, chillingly believable as an utter psychopath.
The crooks have concealed their true identities from one another and each of them is drowning in testosterone. The film is extremely moral despite the f-s and c-s and sh-…iz…es… which sounds like a swear work anyway. Putting real guns into the hands of over-grown boys who act as if they shouldn’t even be allowed toy ones is, the film points out, not generally a great idea. Refreshingly, the film also suggests that being shot in the stomach might not be the normal, neat process that we see in Hollywood action films (James Bond, I’m looking at you).
It’s not all great- there are one too many pop culture references and far too knowing in far too many places… but it’s a very funny film and the in-your-face debut, designed from the outset to be the calling card that announced a new major talent to the world!