Combustible Celluloid Review - Reservoir Dogs (1992), Quentin Tarantino, Quentin Tarantino, Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Tierney, Chris Penn, Edward Bunker, Quentin Tarantino, Steven Wright (voice)
Combustible Celluloid
Stream it:
Download at i-tunes iTunes
Own it:
With: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Tierney, Chris Penn, Edward Bunker, Quentin Tarantino, Steven Wright (voice)
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence and language
Running Time: 99
Date: 01/20/1992

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

4 Stars (out of 4)

All Bark and Bite

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Quentin Tarantino came out of nowhere with perhaps the most astonishing, explosive American debut film since John Cassavetes' Shadows (1959), even if it only played to small, enthusiastic crowds in art houses. Tarantino's complete command of dialogue, performance, camera, and complex storytelling were evident from the start.

Reservoir Dogs focuses on a failed jewel heist, but maintains suspense without ever showing the actual robbery. Most of the action takes place in a warehouse, though Tarantino makes you think you've seen more than he's actually shown. When Michael Madsen, playing the sadistic "Mr. Blonde," cuts off the hostage cop's ear, the audience squirms. But up on the screen, Tarantino discreetly swings his camera over to a loading dock and a sign that says "Watch Your Head." He also makes hugely imaginative use of flashbacks, explaining the origins of certain characters, and even showing scenes of "fictional" stories that never took place (such as Tim Roth's men's room story).

Finally, there is the film's amazing use of sound and rock music, with no traditional orchestral score in sight. Steven Wright lends his voice to a DJ that specializes in retro-1970s bubblegum pop, which adds all kinds of playful and bizarre layers to the film's mood. In one scene, Madsen leaves the radio playing "Stuck in the Middle with You" and exits the warehouse; the muffled, distant radio continues to play all through the shot, then rears back up to full volume when Madsen re-enters the room.

Reservoir Dogs has left fans discussing any number of tiny details, not least of all the unusual use of pop culture references (such as Lee Marvin and Pam Grier).

With his knowledge of all things "B" movie, Tarantino assembled an amazing cast, with Lawrence Tierney (Dillinger) as the craggy crime boss, and former-felon-turned-novelist Eddie Bunker (Straight Time) as one of the six thieves. Tarantino cast himself as another one of the team, but left most of the big scenes to the professionals: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Madsen and Steve Buscemi. Chris Penn evens out the mix as the boss's son, Nice Guy Eddie, wearing sweats and carrying a big portable phone.

I recently spoke to Madsen from Los Angeles about the 10th anniversary of the film. He says that no matter how popular it was here, the reception in England was overwhelming. He still can't walk down the street there without being recognized. "I got more attention in Europe than in America," he says. "I get chased around by the paparazzi in London and even in Paris. I had a few car chases. I had to go out the back door when I was leaving for the set." On his successful portrayal of such a vicious character, he says. "I read a biography of James Cagney when I was a little kid. He said that whenever you play someone very mean, you should find a lighter side."

Artisan's 2002 DVD release contains deleted scenes, a tribute to the late Lawrence Tierney, who plays the gang's gravelly ringleader, interactive K-Billy radio, and more.

In 2022, Lionsgate released a new 4K transfer, which also includes a Blu-ray and digital copy. Extras on the Blu-ray include a 15-minute look at the movie, "Playing It Fast and Loose," weirdly precise psychological profiles of the characters, and several juicy deleted scenes, including alternate versions of the "ear" scene.

Movies Unlimtied