Directed By: Quentin Tarantino
Written By: Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary
It’s been a while since I’ve gotten back on this trail along the journey through our DVD rack. Well, what better movie to come back to than this one? That just happened to be next in line. This is after all the original and hard hitting film that put Quentin Tarantino on the map. By the time I saw it for the first time it was already a cult classic. That was back in 2001 or so when I was just a kid discovering who Tarantino was and backtracking his career.
It was an exciting thing to discover this movie as a teenager. Those were back in the days when I worked at a video store days and had youthful dreams of following in the footsteps of Tarantino. A guy who just loved movies and started making his own. Long before Kill Bill, I had a very different point of view regarding the the young director. I thought his movies were incredible and I really admired how he had made something of himself. He had written some stories, sacrificed some to finance his first film, and with some help from his friends got the ball rolling on an interesting career. A career that has offered us some truly exceptional films, and it all started with this one.
It was a wonderful thing to discover this movie during my formative years. As a young man I had a wild appetite for stories that I fed with both books and film. I had a wild imagination to boot and spent the boring hours of school days imagining stories of my own that I would write down from time to time. When I got my first job at the age of 15 working at a movie video store (that nearly forgotten business entity) I went home every evening with something new to explore. I had been aware of Quentin Tarantino’s work when I was younger. Not just from Jackie Brown, which I had the opportunity to see in the theater but before that. I remember 1994 and seeing the Pulp Fiction poster of Uma Thurman laying on the bed. I was taken with the poster but warned by my step mother that this movie was nothing but garbage. I specifically remember it being one of the first films I took home because I finally had the opportunity to see it for myself. I was marveled by the film and it put me on a quest of sorts to see all of Tarantino’s films.
This eventually turned out to be the last of his movies that I saw but of course in those days there were only a few to see. He had sold some movies made by others (Natural Born Killers and True Romance, two movies that are very similar) but when I started there was only Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Jackie Brown. He had done other things, directing a short in a movie called Four Rooms as well as doing some acting, most notably in Desperado and From Dusk till Dawn. I became an obsessive fan the more I learned about Tarantino. He, like myself at the time, worked at a video store and his love for films was what motivated him to achieve. He had no formal training just talent that he was able to transition onto screen.
In his debut film Tarantino set the tone for all that was to come. He got our attention with an excellent cast, drew us in with witty dialogue, and then blew us away with sudden and savage violence. The cast he was able to assemble for this low budget movie is quite impressive. If I remember correctly he was able to get the attention of Harvey Keitel who agreed to finance and act in the film. The budget was so low that many of the actors supplied their own clothing, yet so many big names were in the film. In hindsight most of these guys were simply in the beginning of their careers and most of them went on to become very popular. Guys like Steve Buscemi and Tim Roth are great in this movie but they would go on to do such great work throughout their careers that this is just another good one for them.
When it comes to the actors in this movie my favorite is hands down Michael Madsen as Mr. Blonde. Mr. Blonde is easily up there with some of the coolest bad guys ever. His swagger, his complete lack of compassion, and his brutal honesty are all part of what makes him so wicked. I have said many times over the years that we did not get enough of Michael Madsen during his heyday. As Mr. Blonde he showed enough potential to be one of the most badass actors available but was never utilized enough. The torture scene is a rough one but I appreciate a bad guy that’s “all in” when it comes to the part. Mr. Blonde doesn’t care if there is a rat, he doesn’t care what anybody will think about his actions; he’s going to do whatever he wants and say prayers for anybody unlucky enough to be in his way. When he tortures Marvin Nash his violence is offset by the charismatic way he goes about his business. Set to the excellent Stealer’s Wheel song “Stuck in the Middle With You,” Mr. Blonde struts around and dances as he goes about the dirty work. After cutting off the officer’s ear he joking says something right into it as he holds it in his hand; sadistic yes but quite funny all the same. One of my favorite bad guy lines comes from his explanation for the much talked about shooting spree during the robbery, “If they hadn’t done what I told them not to do, they’d still be alive.”
My next favorite part from this rich cast is easily Chris Penn. I have never been a fan of his incredibly accomplished brother but I’ve liked Chris in a few things over the years. Chris Penn may have never hit it big like his brother but in this movie he is simply fantastic. As Nice Guy Eddie he is cool yet capable of intimidation. When he finds his friend dead in the warehouse he doesn’t hesitate to make a point about how insignificant the cop actually is by casually killing him. In his monologue afterwards, the strength of his voice and the fire in his eyes serves him well as it’s surprisingly very intimidating. In the final standoff he has so much emotion in his voice as he yells at Mr. White to quit pointing his gun at his father. I find it to be a really powerful performance. Penn was found dead of heart disease nearly ten years ago now but truthfully there was little hope left for his dwindling career in acting. Yet he gave us some good performances in his time and this is one of his best.
I mentioned that this movie is just another good one from Steve Buscemi and Tim Roth. It may be just another good performance from Buscemi but I cannot stress enough how much I admire and enjoy him as an actor. Buscemi has always been “the funny looking guy” but his career has blossomed into so much more than that. By all rights an actor with his looks should never succeed but not only has he succeeded, he has succeeded at plenty of roles that could have easily gone to others. He is so good as his trade that he has managed to overcome all odds to build a career any actor could be proud of, and there is no end in sight for him. Roth hasn’t had the same kind of success as Buscemi but I have always liked him. In this film he isn’t my favorite but he plays the rat and in a movie like this the rat is a character to be despised.
Harvey Keitel deserves special mention in this post because the movie would have never happened without him. Though, I have never particularly been a fan of Keitel and I specifically don’t really like him in this movie. He’s the guy that stands up for Orange all through the movie for all the wrong reasons. In the end when he goes so far as to defend him with his life it’s just too much and the character has always been soured on me because of it.
This is an exceptional movie and I have loved it since the first time I saw it. I saw it at a very influential time during my formative years and I will honestly say it wasn’t something that invoked evil thoughts in me but something that inspired my own interest in creativity and talent. This movie is even more exceptional because Tarantino made it with such a small budget and very little experience in the trade. Over time Tarantino has proved to be a rare and completely genuine talent that rose from nothing to be great, and did it all on his own. He has made some incredible movies with no formal training only the eye of imagination and determination to succeed. Everything that he is has its roots here in this movie; his debut film. Tarantino has a style like no other and it all started with Reservoir Dogs. This is a movie that you must see if you haven’t already. It’s generally regarded as one of the greatest independent films of all time and it left a significant mark on the crime genre. If you haven’t seen it then trust that it is worth your time and check out what you’ve been missing.
NEXT MOVIE: Return of the Dragon/The Way of the Dragon (1972)