If you had to choose just one movie to showcase the effectiveness of fantastic screenwriting, it would have to be Reservoir Dogs. If you can look past the fact that this is a film which is now iconic, gifting movie culture some of its most recognisable and most homaged moments and scenes, you still have a movie which wastes none of its run-time and builds a suspenseful and gripping thriller from the very outset.
The opening scene is a perfect example of none of the runtime being wasted. What seems like an inconsequential conversation about Madonna and tipping waitresses, is actually a perfect look at the key characters and their dynamics. It introduces everyone without actually introducing anyone and gives the audience the impression that they are sitting at the table with the criminals, rather than observing through the fourth wall.
Throughout the film, writer and director Quentin Tarantino manages to integrate many clever writing tricks like this. He plays with time, jumping back and forth to slowly build the mystery and help the story of the botched bank job unfold as the audience needs it to, rather than in a conventional way. To this end, aspects of Reservoir Dogs play out more like a mystery thriller, with the audience trying to figure out both why the bank job failed and also who the undercover cop actually is.
The fact that we never see the actual bank job is a masterstroke. Probably caused by budget restrictions rather than design, the audience is left to see purely the aftermath and it creates that feeling of “fly-on-the-wall” rather than silent observer. In fact, the use of the single, safehouse location is perfect, with characters leaving, returning, being built-up and then confronting each other, all in this pressure-cooker, claustrophobic space.
Those characters are as perfectly written as you’d expect from Tarantino. They are all villains but some are more likeable than others. Harvey Keitel’s Mr White is the stand-out and the character the audience gravitates to the most, as the crook with a heart of gold. His scenes with both the injured Mr Orange, played perfectly by Tim Roth, and the slimy Mr Pink, a career highlight for Steve Buscemi, show more of that expert writing, as they offer a range of different types of scenes and interactions.
Its Michael Madsen’s Mr Blonde who steals the movie. Using that perfect story-telling device of building his menace off-screen, so when he does finally appear, he is terrifying and engrossing in equal measure. He also offers one of the movie’s most iconic moments and changes the way people hear the song, “Stuck in the Middle with You” forever.
The film is full of those iconic scenes, moments and lines. The slow-motion walk is one of the coolest scenes in movie history, the conversation about codenames is tense and funny and the final reveal of each person’s true nature is intense and heartbreaking.
Overall, as Quentin Tarantino’s first movie as both director and writer, all the elements which would make him one of the most exciting directors today are present and correct. The writing is perfect, from the inconsequential but quotable dialogue to the tense stand-offs and revelations. The music is used perfectly and the characters all memorable, giving some of the actors featured the best performances of their careers.
Rating – 5!
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)
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