Reservoir Dogs jumps back and forth between the present and the past, but skips a major part in the tale. It’s like if we are reading a story but the middle section is removed. At the end of this book, the characters are aware that this section has been excluded, and attempt to fill us in on what happened; they say things to each other that they already know to inform us, not each other. But they eventually run out of time and the book comes to a conclusion, leaving us to figure out the majority of what happened for ourselves.
Here is what we do know: There are some people who attempted to pull off a bank robbery. Their goal was to get a large number of diamonds in a two-minute timeframe. Something went wrong during the heist — a couple of these men were killed, as a matter of fact — and now these thieves need to figure out why the police managed to get to the scene of the crime so quickly. One character remarks that it should have taken them four minutes to get there, but instead, they were there almost instantly. There’s a rat, they decide, and most of the film is spent trying to determine who the rat is.
The rest of the film, prior to us finding out this “major mystery”, is spent in flashbacks, learning both about how the crime was supposed to happen, and also why each character decided to take part in it. We don’t get the details about every character, but instead just get to see a select few of them. The major players are Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) and Mr. Orange (Tim Roth), but there are several other people who eventually become involved.
For the most part, the film works. It stays compelling for the majority of the time it plays, save for select moments where it drags. Even without much action ever happening — like how we don’t get to see the actual botched robbery — we are drawn in because of the characters. As the opening scene will show you, you could listen to these people talk for an entire film and not get bored. The opening scene involves the primary cast talking about different songs that were popular at the time, and about tipping waitresses. It has very little to do with the plot, but serves as a great introduction to these characters, as well as the way the dialogue is going to be structured from this point out.
What it doesn’t prepare you for is the aggressive nature that the film takes after the robbery attempt goes south. These people start out as likable, as we don’t really know them. When things don’t quite work out, they are at each others throats constantly, using as much colorful language as they know in order to make the point that they’re angry. Excluding the flashbacks, and one character who proves that he is a sociopath, nobody smiles after the heist goes wrong. Everyone is always yelling at one other character or another, even though Mr. Pink wishes that everyone remain “professional”.
When the Reservoir Dogs doesn’t work, it really drags. The majority of these moments come from Mr. Orange’s scenes, because they generally consist of him whining about being shot during the heist. Tim Roth, in these situations, is painful to watch, and I found myself hoping that the bullet wound would kill him, just so that we didn’t have to put up with his character any more. He’s good in Orange’s flashback scene, but for most of the film, he’s annoying and playing up his injury way too much.
The other actors are much better, if only because they’re consistently good. Each character is unique in both the way that they act and the way they are written and acted. Even though we don’t like these people, they’re interesting and we want to continue to learn more about them. Michael Madsen, Steve Buscemi and Lawrence Tierney are the highlights, but the majority of the cast is really good, primarily thanks to the way they are written; like I mentioned earlier, you could just listen to these people talk for an hour and a half — them doing things is a bonus.
Unfortunately, I don’t think we quite get enough explanation by the end of the film. We’re left wanting a lot more than we’re given, even though we’re given quite a bit. When the credits began to roll, I wondered if that was it, or if I had fallen asleep for half of an hour. It felt like that was the amount of content that still needed to be presented. However, if you want more, that generally means that what you’re given must have been pretty solid. That’s the case here.
Reservoir Dogs is a film that explains a lot about an event that we never get to see, but the event isn’t ultimately what’s important. The characters are what matters, but we don’t get the same level of explanation for all of them. I wanted more of this, and less about the heist. The latter didn’t matter nearly as much as the dynamics and relationships between the characters. It’s still an incredibly compelling, entertaining and interesting film, and something that I would definitely suggest giving a watch if you haven’t already.