By DONALD PORTER
The title, all by itself, gives a pretty good indication of what’s in store when you sit down to watch “Reservoir Dogs.” It’s as visceral a moviegoing experience as you’ll get anywhere.
The film was something of a sensation at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, and is only now making its way back to a Utah theater. Its writer-director, first-timer Quentin Tarantino, has done himself proud with “Reservoir Dogs,” creating a bold genre film that’s repulsive, hilarious, sexist, violent, profane and utterly – utterly – engrossing.
Inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s ’50s heist film “The Killing,” Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” opens with a gang of robbers gathered in a coffee shop. They’re analyzing the lyrics of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin,” debating the etiquette of tipping waitresses and preparing to rob a jewelry store. The language is blunt and offensive, but we realize we’re onto something different here; Tarantino is a style- and violence-wonk in the tradition of Martin Scorsese: There’s artistry galore, but he makes you pay for the experience.
From the restaurant scene, Tarantino cuts forward to minutes after the caper – we never actually see the robbery, but that's OK ... really. The crime went down badly, and a robber named Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) is gut-shot, screaming and bleeding profusely in the back seat of a getaway car driven by Mr. White (Harvey Keitel). They rush back to the prearranged meeting place, an empty warehouse, and wait for the others to follow.
Soon enough, the rest have returned, including Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) and Mr. Blond (Michael Madsen). The ringleader, Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney), has mandated the color-coded aliases to prevent each of his men from knowing the others; only Cabot and his son, Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn), use their real names.
As Mr. Orange bleeds to death , on the floor, the rest of the gang discusses, excitedly, the possibility that they were betrayed by an informer. If so, that would mean one of them is a cop. And so Tarantino uses a series of flashbacks to provide background on each of the remaining robbers – Mr. Brown, played by Tarantino himself, buys the farm early on – detailing how they came to be involved in the diamond heist.
“Reservoir Dogs” is in many ways similar to the hyperstylized crime films of white-hot Hong Kong action master John Woo (“The Killer,” “Hard Boiled”). And Scorsese and Sam Peckinpah are other obvious influences. What seems to set Tarantino apart from these others –the professed adherence to “professionalism” and an intense friendship between Mr. White and Mr. Orange notwithstanding – is an overall emotional detachment and a vision that’s ultimately nihilistic.
Where his predecessors scoop some form of redemption, however meager, from the ruins of his protagonists’ ordeals, Tarantino appears to revel in the brutalization of both his characters and the audience. The scene that’s been getting all the attention, and rightfully so, is the one in which the psychotic Mr. Blond produces a cop he’s taken hostage and – to the tune of the annoying ’70s pop tune “Stuck in the Middle With You” – proceeds to carve the patrolman’s ear off. While the actual removal of the ear takes place off-camera, the experience is unusually harrowing; Tarantino plays the violence in his film realistically, as opposed to the cartoonish brand of mayhem we typically receive via mainstream Hollywood.
“Reservoir Dogs” is by no means a “fun” movie. It is, however, a well-made film and one that should be seen by those interested in exciting talent – both in front of, and behind, the camera.