[box cover]

Reservoir Dogs: 10th Anniversary Edition

Artisan Home Entertainment

Starring Tim Roth, Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi,
Michael Madsen, Chris Penn, and Lawrence Tierney

Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino

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Review by Gregory P. Dorr                   

Perhaps the most significant independent film of the 1990s, Reservoir Dogs dropped like an atom bomb onto the flat filmscape of 1992, launching a chain reaction of hyper-violent, pop culture-conscious imitations that has yet to cool down 10 years later.

While it's arguable that writer/director Quentin Tarantino's follow-up, Pulp Fiction, is the superior film in both form and content — and gained a much wider general audience as a result — Reservoir Dogs sent a revitalizing jolt through the cushiony seats of complacent film buffs, beginning the motor-mouthed auteur's (short-lived) reign as the Gen-X Spielberg: the filmmaker nearly every goatee-cultivating film student in the short thereafter most wanted to emulate.

Reservoir Dogs is a stylish (if low budget) fusion of late-1980s video-store arcanity: 1970s bubble-gum thrillers, Sam Fuller-density dialogue, French New Wave temporal dislocation, and MSG-heavy Hong Kong gangster melodrama. A gang of professional criminals is assembled for a quick, lucrative diamond heist. But during the holdup something goes wrong. Blood, cops, a chaotic getaway, and the group — what's left of them — reconvene at their rendezvous spot to tend to the wounded and sniff out the suspected traitor in their midst. Old loyalties are strained, new loyalties develop, and lots of guns are pointed — Mexican Standoff style — at other cocked firearms. It's like Big Brother, with bullets.

The distinguishing and transforming characteristic of Reservoir Dogs, and the hallmark of Tarantino's influence, is the aura of irreverent yet familiar media saturation that informs his fictions. His characters don't operate in a hermetic, sterile, politically correct cultural vacuum; they watch, listen, discuss and deconstruct the same cheesy music, TV shows and movies that Tarantino himself (and his audience) does, creating an ingratiating bridge between soulless murderers and popcorn-fed voyeurs. It's a brilliant technique, and so often copied since the film's 1992 release that one expects gratuitous info-age namedropping in any movie marketed these day as "edgy" or "hip."

Reservoir Dogs also benefits from being a very good movie, if a little rough at the edges, with a stellar cast of dynamic performers biting into the material with bionic choppers. Tim Roth, Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, Michael Madsen (the thinking man's Tom Sizemore) and Chris Penn all give performances on a par with their very best, even if Roth does sound a bit too much like Bobcat Goldthwait as he writhes around in the blood-soaked back seat of Keitel's car early in the film.

At times the movie's pacing lags as Tarantino dwells on redundant, if clever, dialogue; like an ancient Greek tragedy, a bit too much of the action takes place off-screen and is discussed ad infinitum. There are also a few scenes, though well done, that feel included more for the stylistic tricks therein than for their narrative integrity. Some might also question the transference of John Woo-ish male bonding thematics from their comfortable Hong Kong milieu into the world of the American gangster: Keitel's passionate loyalty to Roth's newbie is a little incredible, is it not, given Mr. White's past experience and otherwise professional demeanor? Hong Kong thrillers sleep and eat on overzealous depictions of male honor and bondage, but these syrupy, romantic presentations are much more easily digestible when excused with the caveat: "It's a foreign film. That's a different culture." And some, even, feel Tarantino relies on other elements of Hong Kong cinema far too much — like the entire plot of Ringo Lam's 1987 City of Fire, which they accuse Tarantino of ripping-off wholesale for his directorial debut.

Notwithstanding some credible nitpicking, Reservoir Dogs is earless-heads and shoulders above the legion of imitators in its wake (except for, that is, Bryan Singer's much tighter and trickier The Usual Suspects, which may never have happened if not for Tarantino's breakthrough), and despite the incessant (and often horrendous) mimicry, Tarantino continued with Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown to establish himself as unique, if limited, visionary.

Disc One

Artisan's 10th Anniversary Special Edition of Reservior Dogs is a two-disc set available with several different covers, each featuring a different member of the film's gang. The first disc features the movie in a great, remastered anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with dynamic DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio tracks. There is an audio commentary featuring edited thoughts from Tarantino, producer Lawrence Bender, executive producer Monte Hellman, director of photography Andrzej Sekula, editor Sally Menke, and actors Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Michael Madsen and Kirk Balz. Never the ideal format for a commentary, the choppy, disconnected stream of thoughts offers some insight and some entertaining anecdotes, but fails to deliver a thorough, coherent analysis of the film.

More candid is the cheekily edited hour of Cast and Crew Interviews included on the disc, including "An Interview in the Back of a Truck With Chris Penn" (6:54), "The Kirk Balz Interrogation" (6:49), "An Afternoon with Michael Madsen "(11:15), "Lawrence Bender" (6:08), "Poolside with Tim Roth" (9:07), and finally "A Tale of Tarantino" (14:44).

The Deleted Scenes included are slight but not uninteresting, and full of Tarantino-flavor. "Background Check" (4:39) is a short expositional sequence following a police investigation of Mr. White's identity and background. "No Protection" (2:57) shows some pre-case jitters on the part of the undercover cop. "Doing My Job" (2:31) offers a premonition of "Pulp Fiction's" "Bonnie Situation." Finally, there are two alternate takes of the infamous "ear" scene. "Version A" (:59) is the less explicit of the two, while "Version B" (1:21) is quite graphic and may shame the film's makeup artists.

Also: the "Every 'DOG' Has His Day" trailer (1:34).

Disc Two

The second disc features the film in a 4:3 full-screen transfer with Dolby 2.0 Surround. The good stuff on this disc, however, is stashed in the Special Features section, which, while full of valuable context and dissection, is maddeningly full of long bits inconsistently unnavigable by chapter selections and/or the fast-forward and review buttons.

There are three Critics Commentaries that run alongside montages of selected scenes. "Film Comment's" Amy Taubin (22:57) discusses Tim Roth's performance and the complicated character of Mr. Orange. She inserts some some far-fetched gender and racial theory into her deconstruction, going so far as to dub Tarantino a "white rapper," and the Mr. White - Mr. Orange relationship as sadomasochistic. "Rolling Stone's "Peter Travers (28:51), naturally, offers some interesting comments on Tarantino's use of pop culture references and music, focusing a little on Mr. Blonde's "Stuck in the Middle With You" sequence. Finally, Emanuel Levy (33:28), a critic and film professor, reserves his comments to Tarantino's unorthodox structure and use of violence.

K-Billy Radio features three audio selections with a terrific post-screening interview with convicted armed robber Samson Beck, who refers to all of the characters in the film as "rooty-poops" and ridicules his French interlocutress, but appreciates the film's "words that make the tits bounce." Next is an interview with musician and songwriter Gerry Rafferty about the song "Stuck in the Middle With You" and followed by outtakes from Stephen Wright's performance as the voice of K-Billy's Sounds of the '70s. The last bit is a short (2:18) video reenactment of the ear-cutting scene as performed by Reservoir Dogs action figures.

Class of '92 (29:15) is a retrospective look at the Sundance wunderkinds who emerged during that pivotal year for indie cinema including interviews with Tarantino (who bitches, rightfully, about Sundance's politically correct prize psychology), Swoon director Tom Kalin, Poison Ivy director Katt Shae, grand prizewinner In the Soup director Alex Rockwell, The Hours and Times director Chris Munch. Also included is a selection of clips (11:39) from Reservoir Dogs' workshopping at Sundance's 1991 Film Lab, with performances by Buscemi and Tarantino, and an odd early draft conversation about Sylvia Path's The Bell Jar.

In Tribute and Dedications (51:41) Tarantino explains the list of dedications noted at the beginning of his script (Timothy Carey, Roger Corman, Andre DeToth, Chow Yun Fat, John Woo, Jean Luc Godard, Jean Pierre Melville, Lawrence Tierney, Lionel White, Monte Hellman, Jack Hill, Pam Grier). There are also extended and affectionate tributes to Lawrence Tierney and Eddie Bunker (Mr. Blue), Monte Hellman, Jack Hill, Pam Grier and Roger Corman.

Also included is a further tip to an influential genre with the featurette The Film Noir Web (8:29) and The Noir Files, a text-based bibliography of Tarantino influences.

Small Dogs (4:07) takes a look at Reservoir Dogs action figures. Securing the Shot (4:22) looks at the film's choice of locations with scout Billy Fox. The Reservoir Dogs Style Guide (:22) is not really much of anything. Also: poster gallery with three posters.

— Gregory P. Dorr

Disc One

Disc Two

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