Wednesday, March 28, 2007

We're Professionals! Reservoir Dogs at Fifteen

I recently watched Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs (1992) again, for the first time since 9/11/2001. It holds up well. It's not one of my favorites in the macho film department, but it's really good. And its influences, references and homages are more apparent than ever -- including nods to Sergio Leone's Il Buono, il brutto, il cattivo / The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966/1967), which is my favorite macho/existential movie (and reportedly also Tarantino's favorite film).

Violent with only secondary (at best) female roles? Yes. Disturbing? Not really, given that these are celluloid fantasies. Hiroshima and Nagasaki are disturbing. Abu Ghraib and the torture, rape and/or murder/mutiliation of real life prisoners and defenseless men, women and children are disturbing. Stylized adult warrior-type male vs. adult warrior-type male violence, even with pools of red blood as seen in Reservoir Dogs, is not particularly. A movie like Boys Don't Cry (1999, based on real life incidents) is the kind that truly disturbs, to the point that I don't want to ever see it again even though it's also very good. Once was enough.

Reservoir Dogs is effective across the board. Tarantino took a traditional setup (highly dangerous plan to get rich quick or die trying) and, with very limited budget, spins a compelling story that includes double-crossing, edgy moments and snappy dialogue. In Leone's case, he had a comparatively much larger budget and used it to set his story against the backdrop of the American Civil War and the American West. With Leone, two of the three main characters -- Tuco (Eli Wallach) and Blondie (Clint Eastwood), as opposed to the sadistic Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef) are fleshed out in some detail and it's evident that these three hombres have crossed paths before, plenty of mystery nonetheless left intact. In Reservoir Dogs, we see the same kind of "Mexican standoffs" as in Leone's epic but at much closer range, without the grand buildup. Blood, though, runs more profusely from Tarantino's characters.

Another comparable film is Joseph Sargent's The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974), set in New York City. In this story, Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw), disgruntled ex-transit worker Mr. Green (Martin Balsam), Mr. Brown and Mr. Gray hijack a subway train and demand ransom in an hour or else. In Reservoir Dogs, we see men dressed in trademark black suits operate under monikers Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), Mr. Orange (Tim Roth), Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi), Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen), Mr. Brown (Tarantino), and Mr. Blue (Eddie Bunker) under the aegis of Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney of film noir fame) and his son, "Nice Guy" Eddie (Sean Penn's brother Chris, now deceased).

Last snap comparison of these three films: use of music. Ennio Morricone's original score for Sergio Leone's stands out (he won a career Oscar this year), as does David Shire's hip soundtrack for Pelham. Tarantino, though, uses "found" music -- mostly pop songs he likes that mordantly fit certain scenes, like "Stuck In The Middle With You," Joe Egan and Gerry Rafferty's 1972 hit, during Mr. Blonde's sadistic treatment of a police prisoner.

Today's Rune: Strength.

Birthdays: Maxim Gorky, Dirk Bogarde.

Hasta La Vista!


Danny Tagalog said...

Gerry Rafferty's tune was frighteningly effective, and the man himself is quite an enigma. The music he pedals is/was popular, but with some strange Other. I loved Baker Street and Night Owl which was one of the better offerings I discovered in my fathers 'family party DJ' black box as an infant

Charles Gramlich said...

Reservoir dogs was certainly a bloody movie. I enjoyed it quite a bit. The cast was excellent.

Sheila said...

I watched that with my boyfriend and I was angry and sad and confused through the whole thing. Very bloody... and the names cracked me up... "why do I gotta be Mr. Pink?"

Johnny Yen said...

I'd never made the connection with The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Great movie.

That scene near the end of G, B, U-- the stand-off-- there's more action in that scene, in which all three men are almost perfectly still, than in most of the action movies I've seen.

It's got a favorite line of mine, one I've maybe read too much in as a Marxist line: "There are two kinds of people in the world: those with guns, and those that dig."

Reservoir Dogs rang in my head for a week after I saw it-- the dialogue, the violence, the fast-moving script, the incredible cast-- all of it. I remember that I'd walk into a bar and half the bar would be talking about it. I've read that Tarantino got the ideas for the color-themed robbers from Pelham.

BTW, there were Reservoir Dogs action figures produced. The "Melvin the Cop" figure was pulled from the market right after 9/11.

I saw Pelham 1, 2, 3 for the first time a few months back-- a movie that gets talked about a lot as an influence on other movies. The cast was one of the best I've ever seen-- Robert Shaw, Hector Elizondo, Martin Balsam and Earl Hindman as the robbers, and Walter Matthau was brilliant as the world-weary cop in the midst of a dysfunctional 1970's New York.

JR's Thumbprints said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JR's Thumbprints said...

Why is it that some movies that we know are outstanding we never go back to, yet others we're willing to watch again? I guess it's all about the entertainment value. There, I said it without error. (I think.)

Laura said...

The thing I didn't like about Reservoir Dogs was that in the end, everyone ends up dead.

Erik Donald France said...

Thanks y'all for the commentos,

Danny, I was so excited when I realized I was walking on Baker Street in London, such was the song's Proustian memory jolt.

Good points, everybody -- seems true, Jim. Johnny, couldn't agree more. Jerry Stiller is great in Pelham, too. That guy always cracks me up.

Laura -- except for Mr. Pink, who gets to flee with the jewels. Now there's a sequel . . .

Sidney said...

I love the opening scene a lot, where they're in the coffee shop, discussing tipping and all of that.