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.
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 tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.