Quentin Tarantino is unabashedly my favorite filmmaker. Every one of his films have sparked strong reactions, both positive and negative, with his use of violence, strong language, use of music, and the occasional foot shot. Starting with 1992’s Reservoir Dogs to 2015’s The Hateful Eight, we see a man honing in his craft, resulting in some of cinema’s greatest delights, making every new Tarantino film an event.
It’s hard to think of a time before Quentin Tarantino was, well, Quentin Tarantino. Before Kill Bill or Pulp Fiction, he made his directorial debut with 1992’s Reservoir Dogs, detailing the events before and after a botched bank robbery, but never showing the robbery itself. Initially, Dogs was meant with polarizing reviews. Some critics praised its style and performances from its ensemble cast, whereas others were vitriolic towards its violence and harsh tone. If you feel a sense of déjà vu towards those sentiments for a Tarantino film, good. It’s almost impossible to detach Reservoir Dogs from the rest of the director’s illustrious filmography. We see a Tarantino who hasn’t quite found his footing as a filmmaker, showing traits that we’ll later on get familiar with, and other techniques that haven’t seen the light of day since. His films have an affinity for chapters, so it’s a foregone conclusion to view his first film as a prelude, an overture to the next 25 years of cinematic insanity.
Let me tell you what “Like a Virgin” is about. It’s all about a girl who digs a guy with a big dick. The entire song. It’s a metaphor for big dicks.
Reservoir Dogs opens with the above line, said by Tarantino himself, as if he’s christening the film as his own. It makes it clear that this is his script, his vision you see on screen. This is a writer/director of the highest order, and Tarantino knew this from the very beginning. The sweeping shot of all the characters is another Tarantino staple. The camera is moves as people are simply talking in a diner about the most mundane and inconsequential of things. The subject of Madonna’s “purity” or the morality of tipping plays essentially zero consequence to the bigger picture, but adds personality and character to an enormous cast of unknown players. You don’t need a biography to get how a character ticks, and Tarantino knows this, so he lets the viewer meet these characters like a bystander would: through incessant dialogue. It’s a clever and effective way to get acquainted with these characters, and in a 90 minute film, timing is of the essence.
Throughout the film, scenes of action and violence are always superseded and bookended by, you guessed it, dialogue. Whether it be Harvey Keitel combing his hair in the warehouse or the iconic Mexican standoff, Tarantino gives the same amount of character information to the audience and the characters themselves. We know that Mr. Orange is the wolf in sheep’s clothing, but it’s meant to be a secret, so only we know. How Michael Madsen’s Mr. Blonde lines up with the rest of the crew is strictly known to the people involved in the flashback, with other characters made to draw their own conclusions. The climax and resolution of the film is ultimately tragic. Everyone dies, save for Mr. Pink, and Mr. White’s sense of trust is completely shattered by Orange’s confession, culminating in the most somber and quietest end of the director’s filmography. It’s a juggling act of information, with the viewer given all the pieces to complete the bigger picture.
Even the infancy of his career, Tarantino’s storytelling talent is put on full display, making a 99 minute heist film have almost nothing to do with the heist, and everything to do with characters, and how they grow to trust or distrust one another. It’s a mystery, a thriller, a whodunnit, but most importantly, it’s a film by Quentin Tarantino.