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Reservoir Dogs: Quentin Gets Lucky

Everybody knows the story of Quentin Tarantino, the video store clerk turned auteur with the help of Harvey Keitel and a smashing ensemble cast. Reservoir Dogs, his 1992 debut, was critically lauded everywhere by every critic that didnít go bolting out of the theater in disgust (see The Doom Generation) during the infamous ear scene. Movie are defined by their most notorious moments, and Dogs certainly had itsí share.

Freddy Newendyke (Tim Roth), aka Mr. Orange, is an undercover cop who is hired by local crime boss Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney) to help pull off a jewel heist. Two million dollars in diamonds are coming through a local jeweler, and Cabot wants the rocks. Heís putting together a crack team to bust in, grab the stones and be out in two minutes before the cops get there.

Unfortunately, things go badly wrong. The cops are on the scene almost instantly and a bloody shoot-out ensues. We never actually see this scene, but we get Mr. Whiteís (Keitel) description of cold-blooded murder perpetrated by one of his partners, Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen). Bam. Bam. Bam. As Blonde calmly goes about shooting the hostages in the back of their heads, the carefully planned heist becomes a all-for-one scramble to escape the place. Everybody loses track of everybody, except for White and Orange.

They arrive at the meeting place- an abandoned warehouse- in poor shape. Orange has been holed through the belly and without medical attention, heís a goner. Now the voice of reason is provided by Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi), who tells White itís been a set-up and vehemently argues against taking Orange to a hospital. Cabotís plan of not having anybody knowing anybody and giving them code names, thereby throwing off police questioners in the event of a snafu just such as this, has been spoiled by Whiteís divulgence of his real name to Orange. "Without medical attention, this man may not live through the night," White protests. "And Iím very sorry about that. But some fellas are lucky, and some ainít," Pink spits back.

That does it. They brawl. They pull guns. And as Pink harangues White about the need for professionalism, Mr. Blonde arrives, all Elvis cool and icy homicide. In Blondeís trunk is a captive police officer who may be able to tell them whatís going on with the setup. So they stomp the crap out him. Of course, he doesnít know anything. Joeís son Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn) arrives and demands to know what the hell is going on. Everybody- save Blonde- is yelling at once, and three of the bad guys leave to go disperse the cars outside.

Leaving Blonde alone with the cop. And to a Stealerís Wheel tune, he slices off the copís ear, slashes up his face and is ready to burning him aliveÖ when Orange puts several holes through his chest.

At this point the only thing left chronologically is the final shoot-out (everybody dies), but Tarantino keeps going back at points during the movie to explain how these men were brought together. The Tarantino trademark of messing with timeís order is the second-best thing about the movie, especially a scene where Roth is attempting to learn the spiel he must deliver to Cabot so that heíll think heís a real bad guy and not a cop. Roth paces in and out of frame in his apartment haltingly, then with more confidence as he gets into character before his police superior. Finally he tells the baddies a story about being stuck in a train station bathroom with a good amount of weed and four LA sheriffs with German Shepherd, all without breaking the continuity of the monologue.

The best part of this film are its actors. Buscemi shines as the ratty Pink, the only one to escape the bloody finale. "Why do I have to be Mr. Pink?" he asks Tierney after the boss hands out their code names. "Because youíre a faggot!" the crime boss retorts, cracking up. "Be lucky youíre not Mr. Yellow." Tierney is authentic in that way that only people who have really been to the big house can be.

The main tension in the film is the White-Blonde and White-Orange bonds, and Madsen is creepiness personified as a completely deranged and charming psychotic killer. Even Tarantino himself makes a couple appearances as the ill-fated Mr. Brown and is surprisingly good, much better than the turkey characters in Four Rooms, From Dusk Until Dawn and the completely deplorable Destiny Turns On The Radio. Keitel and Roth play off each other well, but honestly, how much can you do with a character whose job during the movie is to lie on the floor and bleed?

Here lies the main and seemingly only flaw to Reservoir Dogs: the script. While it is chronologically adept at pulling off sudden jumps from times and scenes, the dialogue itself reads very flatly in the screenplay. Itís tough guy dialogue, simple cliché phrases weíve heard a million times before. Were it not for the talent of the actors playing them, the movie could very easily have been completely laughable. Tarantino originally wanted to do the film for $30,000 in one warehouse location with unknown actors, and while itís interesting to banter about at cocktail parties, it surely would have fallen worse than flat.

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