Flickering Myth’s writing team count down to the UK release of Django Unchained by selecting their favourite Quentin Tarantino movies; first up is Luke Owen with 1992’s Reservoir Dogs…
While it’s amazing for some to think now, but there was a time in cinema history when Quentin Tarantino wasn’t a self-indulgent filmmaker and he just made good films.
After selling the script for True Romance for $50,000 and a hefty investment from Harvey Keitel, Tarantino and producer Lawrence Bender were able to make their little movie that only a few weeks beforehand was going to be made for nothing (well, $30,000) with themselves as the stars. The movie has since become one of the icons of crime and heist cinema, a cult favourite and launched the career of Mr. Tarantino as a writer and director.
The reasons for this are many, but the main two that instantly spring to mind is that the film is incredibly well written and masterfully directed. Not many first-time filmmakers can achieve the level of brilliance Tarantino did on his first go – so amateur was Tarantino and Bender that they often joked on set that they were the least experienced people there. He crafts shots beautifully from a distance when we’re eavesdropping in on conversations and then keeping it tight when the tension starts to build. While this may seem very simple, a lot of first-time directors miss these tricks and just go for the money shots. Never is Tarantino’s directional master class seen more clearly that the infamous “ear cutting scene” – clever shot choices, perfect music selection and the simple-yet-effective idea to cut away from the gore rather than show it in full glory. Some may put this down to budgetary restraints, but I’ve seen the film with the ear shot included and it doesn’t have the same effect.
Reservoir Dogs centres around six strangers (although the promotional posters claimed five) who are brought together by Joe Cabot and his son Nice Guy Eddie to pull off a diamond heist. But despite some careful planning, it doesn’t go according to plan as the team was set up by a rat. With the young Mr. Orange now shot and bleeding to death, the rest of the team try to work out who set them up in the warehouse they were supposed to be celebrating in.
The above paragraph is another example of why Reservoir Dogs works so well – the fact that it’s so simple. Even though a large portion of the movie takes place in one location, the story and characters are incredibly gripping and engaging, which carries the simple story to a heart-pounding conclusion. The movie opens with them all sitting round a table talking about mundane topics of conversation like Madonna’s Like a Virgin and tipping McDonalds staff and yet we sit as an audience hanging onto their every word. This is in part due to the marvelous performances from all cast members (in particular Steve Buscemi), but mostly down to Tarantino’s well realised and excellent script.
This for me is something that Tarantino has lost sight of in the following 20 years. Instead of making films that are engaging and entertaining, he has resulted in making homage-laden movies that are there purely for his own entertainment. Reservoir Dogs is a movie that borrows heavily from other movies such as The Killing, Kansas City Confidential and The Big Combo, but it never throws it in the audience’s faces the way Kill Bill and Death Proof did. At the end of the day, Reservoir Dogs is not Tarantino sitting proudly on his self-made throne of arrogance while shouting “look how much I know about movies”, it’s a movie that is made for entertainment.
But I digress. For me, Reservoir Dogs was when Tarantino was at his best – working with a miniscule budget (by most standards) with a limited time schedule and resources. He had to make the best of a bad situation and he ended up making the best movie of his career. While I do think Pulp Fiction was a worthy follow-up to Reservoir Dogs, the film is flawed. The same goes for Jackie Brown before his films took a swift nose dive (in this critic’s opinion). But Reservoir Dogs is simple, well-written, incredibly well performed and paced perfectly. It is my favourite Tarantino movie.
What’s your favourite Tarantino movie? Let us know in the comments below…
Luke Owen is a freelance copywriter working for Europe’s biggest golf holiday provider as their web content executive.