..

RESERVOIR DOGS
Tenth Anniversary Special Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Tierney, Michael Madsen
Director:  Quentin Tarantino
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1, Pan & Scan 1.33:1
Studio:  Artisan Entertainment
Features:  See Review
Length:  100 Minutes
Release Date:  August 27, 2002

“Are you gonna bark all day, little dog…or are you gonna bite?”

Film ****

It’s hard to watch Reservoir Dogs and really consider the fact that it was made by a first-time director.  There is a braggadocio about it that’s almost defiant…how many novice movie makers would dare to make a heist flick where we never see the heist?

Yet that’s part of what makes the picture so engrossing, and a firm indicator of the style Quentin Tarantino would trademark in his career.  His characters act, but they take time to talk.  When they talk, they don’t always discuss the plot. 

The opening vignette, with its circling introduction to the main characters as they discuss the meaning of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” and the importance of tipping is as great an opening as I’ve ever seen…it’s audacious, funny, memorable, and it gives us an idea about these people we’re going to be spending the next couple of hours with even before we know most of their names.  Yet it’s a scene completely superfluous to the story at hand.  You could almost lift it out and insert it into another film, it’s so self-contained and independent.

From there, the audience is ready go anywhere, but aren’t prepared for where it goes.  An upbeat musical number and the opening credits slowly get cut short by horrific screams of pain.  Our next shot is of two of the characters we just met in the diner making a frantic getaway in a car.  Something has gone wrong.  One of the men is bleeding ferociously in the back seat.  The driver is trying to calm him down.

What happened?  Well, the story of Reservoir Dogs centers around a caper planned by master criminal Joe Cabot (Tierney) and his son, Nice Guy Eddie (Penn).  They assemble a group of professionals to attempt a bold but lucrative jewelry heist in broad daylight.  These men don’t know each other, even by name, going instead by assigned aliases, including Mr. White (Keitel), Mr. Pink (Buscemi), Mr. Orange (Roth), Mr. Brown (Tarantino himself!), and Mr. Blonde (Madsen).

The heist is key, but as I mentioned, we don’t see it.  We spend most of the movie in the aftermath, where the failed job is analyzed and discussed in great detail.  The team obviously walked into a setup.  At least one man is dead, another critically wounded.  The remaining members are regrouping in a pre-assigned rendezvous point in an abandoned warehouse, and they only have one question on their minds…which one amongst them is the traitor?

Tarantino spins his yarn with amazing ferocity and intensity.  He doesn’t shy away from the horrors of violence.  At least two characters spend most of their screen time more or less helplessly stuck in pools of their own blood.  In fact, the only scene in which he denies showing us the violence turns out to be the one that packs the most shocking punch of anything in the film…it’s a sequence that guarantees you’ll never listen to “Stuck in the Middle With You” in the same way again.

But the violence is only a narrative tool.  What really makes this film, and indeed all of Tarantino’s films work, is that his characters talk openly and freely about inconsequential things that bear great weight with them.  At least one critic has described the Tarantino writing style by saying that characters make small talk on their way to big events.  The point is valid:  do we just sit around never talking about anything but what we do for a living?  Then why should Tarantino’s criminals be any different?

Another key element is the non-linear storytelling style that he would perfect in Pulp Fiction.  Why tell the story out of order?  Because a picture like this works better when you’re given key information at proper times.  There are aspects of the characters that would ruin the movie if revealed too soon.  To tell this tale in straightforward fashion would be to have a crime film with no crime and no real surprises up its sleeve.

The cast is amazing from top to bottom, from the gritty Harvey Keitel to the irascible Steve Buscemi, to the legendary Lawrence Tierney.  But special mention must go to two actors:  Tim Roth, who offers one of the most vivid and gut-wrenching performances I’ve seen, and Michael Madsen, who delivers an unforgettable portrayal of an icy cold and totally frightening sociopath.

Some first time directors offer promising starts, but not Quentin Tarantino.  His was one of the rare debuts in which he made and delivered on the promise in exactly the same film.  Reservoir Dogs is a completely original take on a tried and true genre in which the guts of a heist film have been completely reworked and revised.  It’s a hard hitting, unflinching masterpiece, and one of the best and most significant offerings of the 90s.

Video ***1/2

If you’re asking the question of whether it’s worth it to retire your Live DVD of this movie for the new 10th anniversary one, the answer is unequivocally YES.  The new transfer from Artisan boasts two big pluses right out of the gate:  it’s anamorphic, and it’s dual layered.  Image detail and color are noticeably improved throughout, right from the opening scene.  The overall look is less grainy and dingy, with better tones and containment.  If not for a couple of brief shots that are softer, such as Mr. Blonde’s return to Joe’s office, the disc would earn a top rating…as it is, though, it’s still an impressive achievement and a definite improvement.

By the way, Reservoir Dogs makes one of the best cases against pan & scan you could hope to see.  This disc includes the cropped version, but you don’t need it.  I don’t care if you happen to be one of those who grumble about black bars…if you don’t plan to watch this movie in widescreen, you may as well not even pick it up.

Audio ***1/2

I’m not sure there’s a difference between this disc and the original one in terms of the 5.1 audio, but the mix is impressive and well crafted from start to finish.  The rear stage opens up during some action sequences, of course, but listen…during quieter moments in the warehouse, you can hear the kind of open-aired ambient sounds all around you, as though you were in that big empty place with the characters…a subtle but appreciated touch.  Best of all though is the way the songs sounds…that great 70s music uses all channels and the subwoofer for an enveloping listening experience.  Very high marks.

Features ****

Ironically, the last time I was this intimidated by a features package was with another Artisan release, Terminator 2.  But I enjoyed these extras so much, by the time I got through them, I was surprised to see the day had turned to night!

Disc One contains the widescreen version of the film along with a pieced together commentary track featuring Tarantino, producer Lawrence Bender, DP Andrzej Sekula, editor Sally Menke, stars Roth, Madsen, Penn and Kirk Baltz (the tortured cop), and others.  It’s a decent and informative listen, with the only complaint being that it’s rarely screen-specific.  There are also a handful of deleted scenes including two alternate angles for the “ear” scene, and an hour’s worth of brand new interviews with Tarantino, Roth, Madsen, Penn, Baltz and Bender…you can watch them all together or pick specific ones.  They are stylish and interesting, particularly the one with Tarantino.  The theatrical trailer is also included.

Disc Two contains the butchered…oops, I mean pan & scan version of the film with the same commentary track.  It also features tributes to Lawrence Tierney and Eddie Bunker, Tarantino’s discussion of some of his inspirations, and a look back at the Sundance “Class of ‘92” featuring interviews with other nominal independent filmmakers of that year.  There’s a K-BILLY interactive radio with audio-only extras (they include Steven Wright’s readings, an interview with Gerry Rafferty of Stealers Wheel, an interview with a convicted heist man offering his thoughts on the movie, and one video piece with action figures playing out the torture scene).  Rounding out are a poster gallery (three total posters), a look at the line of toys (ages 8 and up??), a “Film Noir Web” short piece, and a featurette on location scouting.  The “Style Guide” is simply an amusing short piece of nothingness.

As an added treat, this title will be available with different outer sleeves, each featuring one of the main characters on the front and some info, quotes and stats about said character on the inside.  All in all, consider this one of the year’s best features packages!

Summary:

Reservoir Dogs is hard-hitting, dynamic and gritty character-driven entertainment, and a masterful debut for writer/director Quentin Tarantino.  This incredible anniversary special edition from Artisan is a definite must-own.