Originally written to: ebedgert@rodan.syr.edu

>The best film of all time? Get real. Tarantino has shown a knack for
>creative use of the f-word, and the dialogue, while virtually pointless,
>was very snappy and enjoyable. But the best movie of all time? What was
>it ABOUT, other than talking and violence?

>Sorry to be mouthing the standard I-hate-Reservoir-Dogs line, but I'd be
>happy to debate the merits of the movie with you if you give me something
>more to go on...

Ignore Michael Lee. Like a lot of pro-RD people, he doesn't know what he's talking about, unfortunately. I think Reservoir Dogs is a great movie, but he's defending it for all the wrong reasons.

If you like, I'll tell you some of the things it was about.

It was about loyalty. Every one of the bank robbers is, at the start, loyal to Joe. The dynamic is upset when one of them, Mr. Orange, receives a serious gunshot wound, and the nature of the situation causes a bond to form between he and Mr. White that, in the final scene of the film, supercedes White's loyalty to Joe.

It was about "acceptable behavior" for someone of the criminal persuasion. (It wouldn't surprise me if there's a more appropriate French term for that. ) How does a concept like "professionalism" exist in the criminal sphere? With one exception (well, two, counting the undercover cop), all of the robbers are "professional" thieves. They all know the ropes; they know what's expected of them. However, because of an unusual tie of loyalty to Joe, Mr. Blonde is admitted into this group for the jewel heist. Mr. Blonde is not a professional. His reaction during the heist to the employees turning on the alarms was to shoot them; the behavior of a thug, but not a "professional". At the other end of the spectrum, Mr. Pink is the most "professional" of the bunch. He is the first to suspect a rat, is the one who has possession of the stolen booty, is the only one who avoids getting shot, and is the only one to survive at the end. Mr. White was somewhat professional, but was betrayed by his sentimental streak towards Orange, the wounded undercover cop, to whom Pink felt no sentimentality at all.

One could say that Reservoir Dogs is a subtle '70s nostalgia trip. Numerous references are made: Charles Bronson in The Great Escape, the '70s radio show, Lee Marvin, Don Rickles, Marvel Comics, Baretta, Christy Love, et al. Tarantino is clearly a student of American pop culture, and of not just the '70s (which he was seen on Comedy Central's Politically Incorrect defending once). He also harbers a fondness for the trashy side of the '80s; RD mentions Madonna at length as well as The Lost Boys, and in the film Sleep With Me, Tarantino makes a cameo pontificating to another character how Top Gun is really about a man's struggle with his own homosexuality. )

My favorite theme in the film, however, is that of telling stories. It's not really central to the movie, but I like it nonetheless. The success of Mr. Orange's cover hinges on convincing the other crooks of his authenticity, and he does so by spinning "the commode story", a fictitious anecdote which is both funny and, because it deals with a precarious brush with the law, hits close to home for the other criminals. Orange/Freddie practices his story over and over, until he can tell it perfectly naturally. He is even prepared for trivial questions from his audience concerning a couple of the details in his story. Now, contrast this with the anecdote Nice Guy Eddie tells about "Lady E". It took me a couple of viewings to realize that this was a made-up story. Eddie tells it with an suspiciously audacious flair. He relates the woman in his tale to a familiar TV character, also suspiciously contrived-sounding. His story has a "ha-ha" punchline, also contrived. Plus, he is not prepared when someone (Orange, ironically) questions him further on a detail (what exactly did Lady E's husband "do" to her?). I think I like this element partially because the telling of lies and weaving of stories is also part, a much more integral one, of Tarantino's True Romance script.

In the technical areas, RD does not have "great" cinematography, unless you dug the fabulous warehouse scenery. Tarantino is a talented camera-pointer in a fairly dynamic, kinetic sense; his action scenes are unusally confident for someone so new to the field. Also, I think it's also a plus in his column as a director that he was able to draw out such natural performances from his actors.

If you didn't like Reservoir Dogs enough to dwell on it much, a lot of this may not make a lot of sense; I can particularly understand if the character names are confusing (they would be to me, if I didn't dwell on them in reflecting on the film). But I hope I gave you just a little more idea concerning what all the fuss is about.

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