A directorial debut, like a first album, is a tricky thing to get right. Some bands release a pretty decent first album, yet only really come into their own on their second release. Others, however, come out of the gate so strong that the second album is a very hard thing to pull off, and they can fade into one-hit-wonder obscurity. Tarantino could have easily fallen into the latter category. His first release, Reservoir Dogs, is a supremely confident film, and could have easily been a fluke, if not for his obvious talent as both writer and director. Of course, Tarantino’s career following Reservoir Dogs is both admirable and enviable; he has made a series of hyper-violent, pop-culture conscious pictures with the same level of confidence and boisterous enthusiasm that made his first one so memorable. Yet Reservoir Dogs still remains, somewhat surprisingly, on the same level as many of the films he’s made even twenty years later. So what makes it such a timeless classic?
I’ve already spoken a little about how confident Tarantino’s screenplay is, but it really is the thing that makes this film pack such a punch. The dialogue is punchy, the timeline isn’t linear (yet not hard to follow) and the characters, as written, are all compelling figures who are hard to read but easy to follow. If Tarantino weren’t so adept behind the camera as well, his nuanced yet blustering text could have been buried in a frenzy of poor directorial decisions. That is not the case, however, and Tarantino truly uses his shots to invite the audience to explore and experience the world he’s created, as opposed to just handing it to us in a pre-wrapped gift-bag.
To cap it all off, Mr. Tarantino’s ability to cast for his films, and write for his actors, is legendary. Uma Thurman as Kiddo in Kill Bill, Jennifer Jason Leigh as Domergue in The Hateful Eight, Samuel L. Jackson in basically every Tarantino film after this one – it’s hard to imagine other actors in these roles, and the same is true for the actors in Reservoir Dogs. They are able to convey the tone and carry the intentional misdirection of the plot in such a way that what we do or don’t yet know doesn’t really matter, because what’s happening is so goddamn captivating. Top those pitch perfect performances off with a fantastic soundtrack and for my money you’ve got almost a perfect film.
Of course, Reservoir Dogs isn’t without its faults. Some of the dialogue is rather racist and/or sexist (although a lecture on feminism would admittedly seem rather out of place coming from these particular characters), and once or twice a flashback sequence feels like it may have outstayed its welcome. But shit, it took me a good while to think of even two faults, and as far as I’m concerned Reservoir Dogs maintains to this day its position as not only one of Tarantino’s best films, but one of the best crime films you are ever likely to see.
The Podfather Score – 9/10