What is there to be said about Reservoir Dogs that hasn’t already been put down on paper during the last 30 years? Not very much—but to quote both Jackie Brown and Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, “Away we go.” Tarantino splashed onto the film scene with Reservoir Dogs, and has became a director so entrenched in cinema culture that some film studies lecturers have banned their students from writing essays on his work.
Reservoir Dogs is a pretty basic heist film, but from the get-go Tarantino subverted all the tropes, starting with the fact that it’s a non-linear narrative, something he would also do in Pulp Fiction but a trick he has generally dropped in his subsequent films. Over the years, people have tried to discredit Tarantino’s “originality” by bringing up the Ringo Lam’s City on Fire, which was an influence but they are such different films. Tarantino just thought the undercover cop subplot and the shootout worked, and wrote a story that was authentically Tarantino.
One of Tarantino’s contemporaries, Jim Jarmusch, once said “Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: ‘It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to’.” Everything Jarmusch says is correct, but sadly many critics are hopped up on an unattainable notion of “originality” that clouds too much film criticism.
Tarantino’s dialogue is really what carries the film, although it’s more apparent on subsequent viewings that David Mamet was a heavy influence on Tarantino at the time. However, if you’re writing a film about these hyper-masculine criminals in 1992, taking a leaf from Mamet’s work isn’t a bad place to start. The staginess of the film also becomes apparent, and it has indeed been adapted for the stage. No doubt that will be done again and again in the future. Tarantino has even joked about remaking the film as his final and “tenth” film, but with a all-black cast, especially since they all sound like black guys anyway. There has been a stage reading directed by Jason Reitman that did just that.
Tarantino’s actual filmmaking in Reservoir Dogs was more amateur than his subsequent films, especially when you look at what he accomplishes only five years later with Jackie Brown. The cinematography is much plainer, and it looks very much like other low-budget crime films of the early ’90s—for example, After Dark, My Sweet or the Abel Ferrara films of that time. However, one standout difference is a jaw-dropping single-take Steadicam shot where you follow Mr. Blonde out of the warehouse to grab the can of gasoline and then back into the warehouse. The editing from Sally Menke is out-of-this-world brilliant, however, with the ear-cutting scene being a masterclass in implied violence and making the audience believe they saw more than they did—the shower scene in Psycho would be the closest comparison. The scene was so strong that WES CRAVEN AND RICK BAKER walked out of a screening at Sitges Film Festival. Of course, Tarantino took that as a badge of honour with the quip, “the fucking guy who did Last House on the Left walked out?”
Reservoir Dogs wasn’t the “train arrives at the station” moment that Pulp Fiction would end up being, but it does mark the debut of the single most significant director of the last 30 years, who would be imitated for better and worse… mainly worse… ever since. The 4K transfer is really impressive, and surprisingly some of the creakier filmmaking doesn’t feel more exposed, something that can be a problem with 4K. I was only sent the 4K disc for review purposes, but only the deleted scenes and two of the featurettes are ported over from the old Blu-ray which are on the Blu-Ray disc. So, if you a Tarantino fanboy you will want to keep your previous Blu-Ray for the rest of the extras, which are really great.