I know a lot of the value of this movie is the influence it brought on indie films: the kinda cool/kinda square criminals of middling competence; the eclectic needle drops; the stylized dialogue as driving dramatic force; the nonlinear narrative; etc.
And so it’s hard to get a level read on the movie now because of that old paradox: the more brilliant a piece of media is, the less brilliant it will seem over time as its impact permeates the medium.
That said, Reservoir Dogs mostly holds up quite well. Despite its unusual structure, it ultimately boils down to a violent chamber drama with mounting tension, distinctive characters, memorable dialogue, and a few great twists.
Tarantino’s instinctive ability to blend talkiness with bravura, stylized violence plays like exploitation poetry, especially when paired with his famed musical selections. (The torture scene is riveting and nauseating.) And the acting is almost universally excellent (Tarantino as actor is annoying, but he’s such a minor figure it barely matters).
The racism and naughty dialogue, on the other hand, just feels tacky. It doesn’t really add to the characters (we already know they’re lowlifes without that), and it’s honestly not all that shocking, just pathetic. So why include it?
Lastly, I feel like Mr. White’s characterization, pivotal to the story, is inconsistent — especially his intense loyalty to Mr. Orange. It’s very clear Tarantino wanted us to speculate whether his attachment to Mr. Orange had homoerotic undertones, but it undercuts the plausibility of Mr. White as an old friend and seasoned criminal in a way that was quite distracting and a bit unearned.
More succinctly: If you like white dudes shouting at, and ultimately shooting, each other, then you’ll love Reservoir Dogs.
- Review Project: 2009 Top 100
Exceptionally Good (7/8)
Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.