Does Quentin Tarantino’s First Film, Reservoir Dogs, Hold Up 25 Years Later?: A Video Essay

When’s the last time you watched Reser­voir Dogs? For myself, it real­ly has been a while, but cer­tain icon­ic scenes stick in my mind: the slo-mo walk (par­o­died end­less­ly since), the open­ing din­er dis­cus­sion, the “Mex­i­can stand­off” of guns. But there’s a lot I’ve for­got­ten (and since hav­ing been under­whelmed by Taran­ti­no’s last film, the relent­less cru­el and much too long The Hate­ful Eight), I won­dered, much like Evan “The Nerd­writer” Puschak, does in his video essay above, “Has Reser­voir Dogs Aged Well?”

Puschak’s quick answer is yes, and in his usu­al jam-packed but salient style he goes through the rea­sons.

Though this is Tarantino’s first fea­ture (or rather the first ful­ly sur­viv­ing one), it con­tains the seeds of a style, but one held back by bud­get. A clip of Siskel & Ebert sug­gests that favor­able crit­ics knew this too. Siskel calls the film “an exer­cise in style” and wish­es it went fur­ther. Pulp Fic­tion would grant Siskel’s wish.

Puschak points out the adren­a­line of its in media res open­ing, with Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) bleed­ing out in the back of Mr. White’s car. We already know a heist has gone wrong, but not how, and we’re not hope­ful about Mr. Orange’s chances of sur­viv­ing. Taran­ti­no would go on to pull a sim­i­lar trick in Pulp Fic­tion, but as he’s matured, he’s left this kind of jolt­ing open­ing behind.

The film pro­pels ahead not like a nov­el, as Taran­ti­no once remarked, but, as Puschak says, more like a clas­sic album, a per­fect­ly sequenced selec­tion of con­trast­ing moods and pac­ing.

Where the film hasn’t aged as well, he con­tin­ues, is in its use of dat­ed ref­er­ences that don’t land like they once did 25 years ago. Yet, Puschak notes, this sort of pop-cul­ture laden dia­log still exists. In fact, it’s every­where, from Mar­vel block­busters to Net­flix series.

If the film is one of the weak­est in Taran­ti­no’s filmography–I would dis­pute that, actu­al­ly, but feel free to hash that out in the comments–it does con­tain a thread that ris­es above its pulpy, ref­er­en­tial style, and that’s the “com­mode” sto­ry, which we see Mr. Orange learn, rehearse, per­form, and per­fect through the film. Its exam­i­na­tion of per­for­mance, of play­ing a role, would lat­er get a full work­out in Pulp Fic­tion and in many oth­er Taran­ti­no films, and here’s where that fas­ci­na­tion begins. Last­ly, why does the film still hold up? Sim­ply: because of videos like this, and web arti­cles also like this. We can’t help revis­it­ing those Reser­voir Dogs.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Quentin Taran­ti­no Cre­ates Sus­pense in His Favorite Scene, the Ten­sion-Filled Open­ing Moments of Inglou­ri­ous Bas­ter­ds

The Music in Quentin Tarantino’s Films: Hear a 5‑Hour, 100-Song Playlist

Quentin Taran­ti­no Lists the 12 Great­est Films of All Time: From Taxi Dri­ver to The Bad News Bears

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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