Reservoir Dogs is a 1992 American neo-noir action-crime mystery thriller that depicts the events before and after a botched diamond heist. The film was the feature-length debut of director and writer Quentin Tarantino, and stars Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Steve Buscemi, Chris Penn, Lawrence Tierney, and Michael Madsen all in groundbreaking roles. Tarantino and ex-criminal-turned-author Edward Bunker both have minor roles. It incorporates many themes that have become Tarantino's hallmarks—violent crime, pop culture references, profanity, and nonlinear storytelling.
The film has become a classic of independent film and a cult hit. It was named "Greatest Independent Film of all Time" by Empire magazine. Reservoir Dogs was generally well received, and the cast was praised by many critics. Although it was not given much promotion upon release, the film became a modest success in the United States after grossing $2,832,029, recouping its $1.2 million budget. The film was more successful in the United Kingdom, grossing nearly £6.5 million, and it achieved higher popularity after the success of Tarantino's next film, Pulp Fiction (1994). A soundtrack was released featuring songs used in the film, which are mostly from the 1970s.
Eight men eat breakfast at a Los Angeles diner before their planned diamond heist. Six of them use aliases: Mr. Blonde, Mr. Blue, Mr. Brown, Mr. Orange, Mr. Pink, and Mr. White. The others are mob boss Joe Cabot, the organizer of the heist, and his son and underboss, "Nice Guy" Eddie Cabot.
After the heist, White drives Orange to the rendezvous, an empty warehouse. Orange has been shot and is bleeding profusely. Pink arrives, agitated; he believes the job was a setup and that the police had the diamond store staked out. White tells Pink that Brown was killed while escaping and that Blue is presumed dead. They discuss Blonde, who murdered several civilians in the shootout; White is angry that Joe, an old friend, employed such a "psychopath". Pink reveals that he escaped with the diamonds and hid them in a secure location. They argue over whether to take the unconscious Orange to a hospital.
Blonde arrives and tells them to wait for Eddie. He reveals he has taken a police officer, Marvin Nash, hostage in his trunk; they beat him in an attempt to discover the informant. Eddie arrives and orders Pink and White to help him retrieve the diamonds and dispose of the hijacked vehicles, while Blonde stays with Nash and Orange. Alone with Blonde, Nash denies knowledge of a setup. Blonde is uninterested and tortures Nash for his own amusement, severing his ear with a straight razor. He douses him with gasoline, but before he can ignite it, Orange shoots him dead. Orange tells Nash he is an undercover police officer and that police are coming.
Eddie, Pink, and White return to the warehouse to find Blonde dead. Orange claims that Blonde was going to kill them and take the diamonds. Eddie shoots Nash dead and rejects Orange's story, saying that Blonde was a loyal friend. Joe arrives and reveals that Blue is dead. He accuses Orange of being an informant and is about to execute him, but White pulls a gun on him; Eddie in turn takes aim at White, creating a Mexican standoff. All men fire; Joe and Eddie are killed, and White and Orange are wounded. Pink takes the diamonds and flees. After White crawls to Orange and cradles him, Orange confesses that he is a police officer. Devastated, White puts his gun to Orange's head. The police storm the warehouse, demanding that White drop the gun. Gunshots sound and White collapses.
- Harvey Keitel as Mr. White (Lawrence Dimmick)
- Tim Roth as Mr. Orange (Det. Freddie Newandyke)
- Steve Buscemi as Mr. Pink
- Lawrence Tierney as Joe Cabot
- Michael Madsen as Mr. Blonde (Vic Vega)
- Chris Penn as "Nice Guy" Eddie Cabot
- Quentin Tarantino as Mr. Brown
- Kirk Baltz as Officer Marvin Nash
- Randy Brooks as Officer Holdaway
- Edward Bunker as Mr. Blue
Quentin Tarantino had been working at Video Archives, a video store in Manhattan Beach, California, and originally planned to shoot the film with his friends on a budget of $30,000 in a 16 mm black-and-white format with producer Lawrence Bender playing a police officer chasing Mr. Pink.
When actor Harvey Keitel became involved and agreed to act in the film and co-produce, he was cast as Mr. White. With Keitel's assistance, the filmmakers were able to raise $1.5 million to make the film.
Reservoir Dogs was, according to Tarantino, influenced by Stanley Kubrick's The Killing. Tarantino said: "I didn't go out of my way to do a rip-off of The Killing, but I did think of it as my "Killing," my take on that kind of heist movie." The film's plot was suggested by the 1952 film Kansas City Confidential. Additionally, Joseph H. Lewis's 1955 film The Big Combo inspired the scene where a cop is tortured in a chair. Tarantino has denied that he plagiarized with Reservoir Dogs and instead said that he does homages. Having the main characters named after colors (Mr. Pink, White, Brown, etc.) was first seen in the 1974 film The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. The film also contains key elements similar to those found in Ringo Lam's 1987 film City on Fire. But Tarantino had always advertised his sources especially with his screenplay title page dedicated the movie to, among others, Roger Corman, Chow Yun-Fat, Godard, Melville, and the obscure 1950s action director Andre De Toth.
Of his decision to not show the heist itself, Tarantino has said that the reason was initially budgetary but that he had always liked the idea of not showing it and stuck with that idea in order to make the details of the heist ambiguous. He has said that the technique allows for the realization that the film is "about other things"; a similar plot outline that appears in the stage play Glengarry Glen Ross and its film adaptation in which the mentioned robbery is never shown on camera. Tarantino has compared this to the work of a novelist, and has said that he wanted the film to be about something that is not seen and that he wanted it to "play with a real-time clock as opposed to a movie clock ticking".
The title for the film came from a patron at the Video Archives. While working there, Tarantino would often recommend little-known titles to customers, and when he suggested Au revoir les enfants, the patron misheard it as "reservoir dogs".
Reservoir Dogs premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 1992. It became the festival's most talked-about film, and was subsequently picked up for distribution by Miramax Films. After being shown at several other film festivals, including in Cannes, Sitges and Toronto, Reservoir Dogs opened in the United States in 19 theaters with a first week total of $147,839. It was expanded to 61 theaters and totaled $2,832,029 at the domestic box office. The film grossed more than double that in the United Kingdom, where it was banned from home video release until 1995. During the period of unavailability on home video, the film was re-released in UK cinemas in June 1994.
Reservoir Dogs is regarded as an important and influential milestone of independent filmmaking. It has inspired many independent films and is considered important in the development of independent cinema. Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes retrospectively gives the film a 90% based on reviews from 62 critics and Metacritic carries an average rating of 78/100, based on 23 reviews. Empire film magazine named it the "Greatest Independent Film" ever made.
At the film's release at the Sundance Film Festival, film critic Jami Bernard of the New York Daily News compared the effect of Reservoir Dogs to that of the 1895 film L'Arrivée d'un Train en Gare de la Ciotat, whereby audiences putatively observed a moving train approaching the camera and scrambled. Bernard said that Reservoir Dogs had a similar effect and people were not ready for it. Vincent Canby of The New York Times enjoyed the cast and the usage of non-linear storytelling. He similarly complimented Tarantino's directing and liked the fact that he did not often use close-ups in the film. Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times also enjoyed the film and the acting, particularly that of Buscemi, Tierney and Madsen, and said "Tarantino's palpable enthusiasm, his unapologetic passion for what he's created, reinvigorates this venerable plot and, mayhem aside, makes it involving for longer than you might suspect." Critic James Berardinelli was of a similar opinion; he complimented both the cast and Tarantino's dialogue writing abilities. Hal Hinson of The Washington Post was also enthusiastic about the cast, complimenting the film on its "deadpan sense of humor".
Roger Ebert was less enthusiastic; he felt that the script could have been better and said that the film "feels like it's going to be terrific", but Tarantino's script does not have much curiosity about the characters. He also stated that "[Tarantino] has an idea, and trusts the idea to drive the plot." Ebert gave the film two and a half stars out of four and said that while he enjoyed it and that it was a very good film from a talented director, "I liked what I saw, but I wanted more."
The film has received substantial criticism for its strong violence and language. One scene that viewers found particularly unnerving was the ear-cutting scene; Madsen himself reportedly had great difficulty finishing it, especially after Kirk Baltz ad-libbed the desperate plea "I've got a little kid at home." Many people walked out during the film. During a screening at Sitges Film Festival, fifteen people walked out, including horror film director Wes Craven and special makeup effects artist Rick Baker. Baker later told Tarantino to take the walkout as a "compliment" and explained that he found the violence unnerving because of its heightened sense of realism. Tarantino commented about it at the time: "It happens at every single screening. For some people the violence, or the rudeness of the language, is a mountain they can't climb. That's OK. It's not their cup of tea. But I am affecting them. I wanted that scene to be disturbing."
Reservoir Dogs has often been seen as a prominent film in terms of on-screen violence. J.P. Telotte compared Reservoir Dogs to classic caper noir films and points out the irony in its ending scenes. Caroline Jewers called Reservoir Dogs a "feudal epic" and paralleled the color pseudonyms to color names of medieval knights.
Critics have observed parallels between Reservoir Dogs and other films. For its nonlinear storyline, Reservoir Dogs has often been compared to Rashomon. Critic John Hartl compared the ear-cutting scene to the shower murder scene in 1960's Psycho and Tarantino to David Lynch. He furthermore explored parallels between Reservoir Dogs and Glengarry Glen Ross.
Todd McCarthy, who called the film "undeniably impressive", was of the opinion that it was influenced by Mean Streets, Goodfellas and The Killing. After this film, Tarantino himself was also compared to Martin Scorsese, Sam Peckinpah, John Singleton, Gus Van Sant, and Abel Ferrara.
A frequently cited comparison has been to Tarantino's second and more successful film Pulp Fiction, especially since the majority of audiences saw Reservoir Dogs after the success of Pulp Fiction. Comparisons have been made regarding the black humor in both the films, the theme of accidents, and more concretely, the style of dialogue and narrative style that Tarantino incorporates into both films. Specifically the relationship between whites and blacks plays a big part in the films though underplayed in Reservoir Dogs. Stanley Crouch of The New York Times compared the way the white criminals speak of black people in Reservoir Dogs to the way they are spoken of in Scorsese's Mean Streets and Goodfellas. Crouch observed the way black people are looked down upon in Reservoir Dogs, but also the way that the criminals accuse each other of "verbally imitating" black men and the characters' apparent sexual attraction to black actress Pam Grier.
In February 2012, as part of an ongoing series of live dramatic readings of film scripts being staged with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), director Jason Reitman cast black actors in the originally white cast: Laurence Fishburne as Mr. White; Terrence Howard as Mr. Blonde; Anthony Mackie as Mr. Pink; Cuba Gooding Jr. as Mr. Orange; Chi McBride as Joe Cabot; Anthony Anderson as Nice Guy Eddie (Joe Cabot's son); Common as both Mr. Brown and Officer Nash (the torture victim of Mr. Blonde), and Patton Oswalt as Holdaway (the mentor cop who was originally played by a black actor in the film). Critic Elvis Mitchell suggested that Reitman's version of the script was taking the source material back to its roots since the characters "all sound like black dudes."
In an interview featured in the 2011 documentary I Am Fishead, psychologist Robert D. Hare reports that Keitel's character Mr. White and Madsen's Mr. Blonde illustrate the differences between the mental health diagnoses of sociopathy and psychopathy. Mr. White is a sociopath, a professional criminal who nonetheless has some loyalty and standards of conduct; he takes no pleasure in violence but regards the use of force as an occasional necessity in his vocation. In contrast, Mr. Blonde enjoys torturing the captured police officer; Mr. White explicitly describes Mr. Blonde as a "psychopath" and condemns his reckless shooting of civilians.
The film was screened out of competition at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival.
It won the Critic's Award at the 4th Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival in February 1993 which Tarantino attended. The film was also nominated for the prestigious Grand Prix of the Belgian Syndicate of Cinema Critics.
In the United Kingdom, the release of VHS rental video was delayed until 1995 due to the British Board of Film Classification initially refusing the film a home video certificate (UK releases are required to be certified separately for theatrical release and for viewing at home). The latter is a requirement by law due to the Video Recordings Act 1984. Following the UK VHS release approval, Polygram released a "Mr Blonde Deluxe Edition", which included an interview with Tarantino and several memorabilia associated with the character Mr. Blonde, such as sunglasses and a chrome toothpick holder.
Region 1 DVDs of Reservoir Dogs have been released multiple times. The first release was a single two-sided disc from LIVE Entertainment, released in June 1997 and featuring both pan-and-scan and letterbox versions of the film. Five years later, Artisan Entertainment (who changed their name from LIVE Entertainment in the interim) released a two-disc 10th anniversary edition featuring multiple covers color-coded to match the nicknames of five of the characters (Pink, White, Orange, Blonde and Brown) and a disc of bonus features such as interviews with the cast and crew.
For the film's 15th anniversary, Lionsgate (which had purchased Artisan in the interim) produced a two-disc anniversary edition with a remastered 16:9 transfer and a new supplement, but not all of the extra features from the 10th Anniversary edition. In particular, interviews with the cast and crew were removed, and a new 48-minute-long feature called "Tributes and Dedications" was included. The packaging for the 15th anniversary edition is fancier: the discs are enclosed in a large matchbook, and the matchbook is in a thin aluminum case made to resemble a gas can.
The Reservoir Dogs: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack was the first soundtrack for a Quentin Tarantino film and set the structure his later soundtracks would follow.
This includes the extensive use of snippets of dialogue from the film. The soundtrack has selections of songs from the 1960s to '80s. Only the group Bedlam recorded original songs for the film. Reasoning that the film takes place over a weekend, Tarantino decided to set it to a fictional radio station 'K-Billy' (presumably KBLY)'s show "K-Billy's Super Sounds of the Seventies Weekend", a themed weekend show of broadcasts of songs from the seventies. The radio station played a prominent role in the film.
An unusual feature of the soundtrack was the choice of songs; Tarantino has said that he feels the music to be a counterpoint to the on-screen violence and action. He also stated that he wished for the film to have a 1950s feel while using '70s music. A prominent instance of this is the torture scene to the tune of "Stuck in the Middle with You".
Bedlam was a 1990s rock group from Nashville fronted by Jay Joyce, who were signed to MCA Records. Their album Into the Coals was released in 1992. Further members were Chris Feinstein (bass) and Doug Lancio. "Magic Carpet Ride" is a cover of the 1968 Steppenwolf song. "Harvest Moon" is written by Jay Joyce.
Sandy Rogers' "Fool for Love" initially was title song to Robert Altman's 1985 film Fool for Love.
A video game based on the film was released in 2006 for PC, Xbox, and PlayStation 2. However, the game does not feature the likeness of any of the actors with the exception of Michael Madsen. GameSpot called it "an out and out failure".
Kaante, a Bollywood film released in 2002, is a remake of Reservoir Dogs. The film's central plot is based on Tarantino's film, and also borrows plot points from The Usual Suspects and Heat. Tarantino has been quoted as saying that Kaante is his favorite among the many rip-offs of his film.
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