My movie bucket list: Quentin Tarantino (Week 1)

reservoir-dogs-quentin-tarantinoLast week, I decided to start a new blogging project: reviewing some of the films on my “movie bucket list.” I’ve been keeping track of movies people have recommended to me and classics I haven’t seen, and one of the first items on my list was a film by Quentin Tarantino. I must confess that yes, I hadn’t ever watched a Tarantino film, and as a movie buff, I thought that was pretty much inexcusable. 😉 The majority of people I asked recommended I start with Tarantino’s first movie, “Reservoir Dogs.”

Tarantino is one of our generation’s most distinctive directors; he’s known for creating smart, hyper-violent films with an emphasis on dialogue, and I was excited about seeing my first Tarantino film. (Note: This blog will contain quite a few spoilers about the movie.)

“Reservoir Dogs” is a dark, sometimes disturbing, crime thriller with touches of what was to become Tarantino’s trademark black humor. The film follows a team of criminals who are hired to pull off a diamond heist. However, things end up going badly, and the criminals find a group of cops waiting for them. The criminals quickly deduce one of them must be a police informant, but they can’t figure out who.

Since this was my first Tarantino film, I tried to pay extra close attention to Tarantino’s choices as a film maker, observing how he started forming his signature style. Tarantino is known for his dialogue, and this is definitely a dialogue-heavy film. The movie opens with an extended sequence at a diner, with the characters all sitting around swapping stories. This gives viewers a quick snapshot of who the characters are and what roles they will play in the film. The mood is often tense in the movie, but Tarantino uses dialogue to work in flashes of humor.

Characters also are important to Tarantino, but he chooses to reveal their personalities and motivations slowly. The story is told in a non-linear style; Tarantino jumps back and forth in time, telling a good portion of the story through flashbacks. It took me a bit to adjust to this format, but I think this style choice gives the big twist — the revelation of which criminal is an undercover cop — more impact. It’s also interesting that you don’t see the heist itself.

My favorite characters were Mr. White and Mr. Orange (the criminals go by code names to protect their identities), played by Harvey Keitel and Tim Roth. Mr. Orange is revealed to be the idealistic undercover cop, and Mr. White is the criminal that befriends him. I liked the complex relationship between the two characters. At the end, Mr. White sacrifices himself to prevent Mr. Orange from being shot, even though Mr. Orange is already dying from severe wounds. I think Mr. White had more of a conscience than the other criminals (even though he may not have admitted it), and he recognized that Mr. Orange was a good man. I also liked the always-funny Steve Buscemi’s portrayal as Mr. Pink.

Tarantino doesn’t shy away from violence, another trademark of his movies. There’s a rather disturbing torture scene in the middle of the film; though the camera cuts away before we see the worst of it, it’s still unsettling. Tarantino uses this scene to reveal how dangerous and psychopathic one of the criminals, Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen), really is.

Although I think I’ll probably end up liking some of Tarantino’s other films better, I’m glad I started with his first movie so I can use it as a comparison when I watch his later films. I’m hoping to come back to “Pulp Fiction,” arguably Tarantino’s best-known film, after going through some of the other movies on my bucket list.

Next up on the bucket list, “National Lampoon’s Vacation”! 🙂

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9 thoughts on “My movie bucket list: Quentin Tarantino (Week 1)

  1. Congrats on your first Tarantino movie! Yup, I think you’ll end up liking his other movies more but this is a good one to start. 🙂 It’s been a long time since I’ve watched it so I can’t say I remember much other than the torture scene … can’t ever forget that haha. The dialogue is one of Tarantinto’s trademarks and a number of his other films use the non-linear approach too. Btw, have you watched In Bruges? It also has good dialogue and is about two criminals laying low after their crime.

  2. Don’t expect his later films to be less disturbing. Disturbing is what he does. There is at least one scene in all of his movies that will stay with you. Pulp Fiction, Natural Born Killers, Django Unchained. There’s always one scene with blood everywhere. But Reservoir Dogs is my favorite because of the characters. And of course the dialogue. And the awesome standoff at the end. (“Stop pointing that f**kin’ gun at my dad!”) Love that movie. It was the first thing I did when I got out of jail. I went to the theater and RD was playing. I laughed through the whole thing. (Police had beaten me up then arrested me for it)

    “You shoot anybody?”
    “Just cops.”
    “So, no REAL people?”

    It was cathartic. I left the theater singing… “Stuck in the middle with you.” Cheered me right up. Good blog.

    • Thanks! The stand-off at the end was a good scene, very intense. I really liked the dynamic between Mr. Orange and Mr. White and wanted to see even more of their characters. I thought Tarantino made a lot of interesting choices in terms of cinematography, also. I’m looking forward to watching more Tarantino movies, I’ll think I rent “Pulp Fiction” next. Sorry to hear about your bad experience. 😦 It’s amazing how films really can be cathartic and help us process our experiences. I can think of times when a film helped me process some issues I was dealing with. That’s the great thing about art!

      • Great Idea for a blog post. 5 (maybe 10) times when a movie saved my life (metaphorically). You always help me come up with the best ideas for posts.

        If you liked the cinematography I’m sorry to tell you that it was stolen from another movie. Tarantino pretty much storyboarded RD straight from City on Fire. There is a jewel heist in it and it is exactly (and I mean exactly) the same. Shot for shot. You’ll find that his later movies aren’t photographed as well. And even later he pretends to make that his style; that his movies are shot bad on purpose; that jump cuts, shitty lighting and bad shots are his style. Pulp Fiction is great though (again mostly because of the writing) and I here he had help.

      • I’m looking forward to reading that post!

        I’ll have to check out “City on Fire,” to compare the two. Sounds like Tarantino’s strong point really is the writing.

  3. Pingback: The good, the bad and the ugly: Looking back at five years of hits (and misses!) at Box Office Buzz | Box Office Buzz

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