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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Gangster > Heist > Action > Reservoir Dogs (15th Anniversary Edition/DVD-Video)

Reservoir Dogs (15th Anniversary Edition/DVD-Video)


Picture: B     Sound: B     Extras: A     Film: B+



In 1992, a former video-store clerk in his late 20s with a lifelong passion for movies named Quentin Tarantino made an auspicious debut as a writer/director with Reservoir Dogs, a violent, bloody and foul-mouthed crime-thriller that played like Glengarry Glen Ross with guns.  Fifteen years later, it remains a highly cinematic blast for those who can stomach its brutality.


But for a movie that so many have come to love, there are very few people who actually saw Reservoir Dogs in a theater.  In the fall of '92, it wasn't given much of a promotional push by distributor Miramax, and 61 screens was as wide as it ever got in the U.S.  The low-budget production grossed just $2.8 million domestically.  However, it became such a success on video that Tarantino's sophomore effort, Pulp Fiction, soon started generating an enormous amount of buzz.


With a non-linear structure mirroring Stanley Kubrick's 1956 crime classic, The Killing, and a plot with lots of similarities to Ringo Lam's 1987 Hong Kong film City on Fire, Reservoir Dogs concerns six hardened criminals assembled by an elderly gangster named Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney) to rob a jewelry store.  In a plot point taken from The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three (1974), Joe assigns each man a code name (Mr. White, Mr. Pink, Mr. Blond, etc.) to keep their real identities a secret from even each other.


Dressed in black suits with white shirts and dark shades during the job, the six career crooks resemble the stylishly dressed hit men played by Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager in Don Siegel's The Killers (1964).


When the heist goes violently awry, the surviving men converge in an abandoned warehouse where they attempt to figure out who amongst them is an undercover cop.


Tarantino does steal from other films, but he smartly steals the right stuff, and his ability to write such amusing, naturalistic dialogue immediately showed that he had his own distinct voice.  A very unique aspect of his work when he arrived on the scene was that it was filled with references to cool people and things in popular culture that never completely got their due -- Charles Bronson, Lee Marvin, Pam Grier and lots of forgotten music from the 1970s.  Refreshingly, Tarantino made films about characters who, not unlike himself, watched a lot of movies and television, listened to pop music, and weren't afraid to talk about it.


With Harvey Keitel (also a co-producer) as his one name actor, Tarantino did a great job of casting his gang of criminals with actors (Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Steve Buscemi, Chris Penn) who were (then) largely unknown, while bringing back an old tough-guy actor from the '40s and '50s (Lawrence Tierney) as their underworld boss.  Interestingly, the role of Joe came down to a choice between Tierney and Timothy Carey, both of whom had a reputation for being totally unpredictable off screen.  Carey, though, had already appeared in Kubrick's The Killing, and it's possible even someone as brash as Tarantino didn't want such a direct connection in his debut with a work of Kubrick's from which he was already borrowing.


But if Reservoir Dogs has had a negative impact, it's the influence of its infamous ear-slicing scene and how that particular scene helped to increase the level of giddy sadism in movies.


Lionsgate's 15th Anniversary Edition is uniquely packaged in a red and gold tin DVD case that represents a gasoline can (a reference anybody who's seen the film will get), with the DVDs inside packaged in a cardboard and plastic holder shaped like a matchbox from the diner where the characters meet at the beginning of the film.



This edition features a newly remastered anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) transfer with the sound options of 6.1 DTS-ES or 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround EX.  The Video Black just edges the image to its rating, while the DTS is better than the Dolby, though both show the age of the film.  This set is also loaded with interesting extras, including an audio commentary track by the obnoxiously self-aggrandizing Tarantino and several other members of the cast and crew.  There's also a separate scene-specific commentary by film critics Peter Travers, Amy Taubin and Emanuel Levy -- Levy's is by far the most insightful.


In addition to 5 deleted scenes (including two alternate, more-graphic angles of the ear-cutting), some of the other outstanding extras on this 2-disc set include two documentaries, one a retrospective called Playing It Fast and Loose and a second called The Class of '92, which takes a look back at the five films and filmmakers that competed for the top prize at 1992's Sundance Film Festival.  There's also an entertaining segment that gives psychological profiles to the criminal characters in the film.  But especially enjoyable are some of the stories Tarantino and others have to tell about the ill-tempered Tierney, who died in 2002, and epitomized what it meant to be "a character."



-   Chuck O'Leary


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