Reservoir Dogs is a crime drama about a group of thieves who collide after a job goes sour. Groundbreaking and influential, it marked the start of a highly influential career for its director and stands as one of the most celebrated films of the 1990s.
The set up is simple: a diamond heist by a gang of six anonymous thieves goes terribly wrong. Shot in the belly, Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) is driven back to the safe-house by Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), who has come to respect the younger man and even feel responsible for his wounds. Soon after, Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) arrives and believes the gang was setup by an undercover cop in the group. Hostile and antagonistic, he and Mr. White come to blows over who is whom, soon drawing guns on one another. They are then distracted by the casual entrance of one Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen), who is unmoved by the altercation, nor the accusations of excessive violence at the scene of the robbery he allegedly started when a clerk tripped the alarm. He has a surprise for the boys though. A kind of ‘make it all better’ thing. In his trunk is a kidnapped cop (Kirk Baltz) from the shootout. Elated, the men strap the officer to a chair and beat him, demanding how police knew to be at the diamond job so quickly. Before it gets too out of control though, Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn) storms in, angrily trying to figure out how the caper he helped orchestrate had gone so badly. Fingers are pointed, and Eddie decides to stop the torturing of the cop and tell Mr. White and Mr. Pink to help him move the cars to avoid suspicion while Mr. Blonde watches over the bound cop and the gut-shot Mr. Orange. Bad idea.
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, Reservoir Dogs marks the debut of the now famed filmmaker, and while it had a very limited release when is was sent to theaters, it has come to be the most widely recognized independent film success in cinema history, creating a sea change in movies that still resonants. Filled with the now familiar style that Tarantino has become famous for, including nonlinear storytelling, violence, and pop-culture references, it is also heavily influenced by other films, paying homage to the classics.
Met with both critical praise and vitriolic condemnation, the film is, if anything, a conversation starter, with many still divided over the movie’s merits. Feeling more like a filmed stage play than a typical movie, it is told in flashbacks, building up to a botched robbery that is actually never seen. That’s because it is not about the diamonds but rather the people who stole them. And it’s those people that make this film better than is should be. Led by gravel-voiced hulk (or rather The Thing, according to Mr. Orange) of a man, Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney) is the very essence of ‘tough-guy’. He assembled the crew and has been in the criminal business his whole life and now has his son (Penn) up to his neck in it. Joe has recruited six men who mostly don’t know each other, and thus are given the aforementioned color-coded names. Mr. Blue (Edward Bunker) is the least seen of the bunch, followed by Mr. Brown, played by the film’s writer and director. Madsen perhaps comes off best, though, giving us a character unlike any of the others, who is more than dark, he is disturbed and clearly unhinged.
If anything, Reservoir Dogs is the prototype, the proof of concept for Tarantino, who is without a doubt, one of the greatest writer/directors in cinema. With this outing, Tarantino honed his skills and went on to make superior films, which is not to say that Reservoir Dogs is bad, but that it lacks some of the depth of Tarantino’s later work. It is a study in design and commitment to a theme that, at the time, needfully shook things up. With a limited budget and few resources, Tarantino created a hallmark movie event that deservedly earns its praise and unleashed the real filmmaking genius to create even better. And like every movie, it has one great moment.
Mr. Blonde is a Friend of The Family
With the heist over and the aftermath still causing chaos, we are slowly learning about the characters beyond the funny and excellent opening to the film where we met them in a diner talking about Madonna songs and the worthiness (or otherwise) of tipping. As Tarantino often does, he splits his films into titled segments, giving us flashbacks about how some of the criminals came to be involved in the failed caper. Mr. White is the first to get a scene before the shootout, having a meeting with Joe about the old days and new opportunities. It’s a nice break from the warehouse moments and provides further clues as to who might be the snitch inside the gang.
Enter Mr. Blonde. Appearing at the warehouse, he leans nonchalantly on a steel beam, sucking down a cola, amused at the bitterness brewing between Mr. White and Mr. Pink, just as any good psychopath would. He then distracts them enough to get their attention, revealing that he has a surprise out in his car and that they should come out and take a look. They follow and learn that Nice Guy Eddie is on the way, and that soon, things are going to get settled. Then he opens the trunk and reveals he’s kidnapped a uniformed police officer.
From here, the screen goes black and words “Mr. Blonde” appears in white font. Time for some backstory. We see the interior of a well-furnished office complete with enormous elephant tusks arching up from the floor on either side of a plush leather chair. Joe is in that chair, and he’s on the phone telling someone who must own him money to relax when Vic Vega is announced (a family name that will come around again in Pulp Fiction). In walks the confident Mr. Blonde, fresh from a 4-year stint in prison where he didn’t squeal once about his ties to Joe; loyalty that Joe plans to reward.
Following Vega is Joe’s son, Nice Guy Eddie and there is an obvious deep bond between the two younger men as they playful insult each other and even come to wrestle on the floor. As the scene progresses, Joe invites Vega in on the diamond job and Eddie promises to take care of Vic and his problems with his parole officer and income. Life looks to be turning around for the former inmate and it’s very clear that while we were meant to believe the crew were a collection of strangers, that is certainly not the case. Vic is a proven warrior in Joe’s army, and this revelation marks a significant shift for the audience.
First, we learn that Vic is now definitely not the inside man. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, we also learn that Eddie is is in fact Joe’s son and these two have a long reach over a vast criminal empire. Vega is a part of it. Vic is a hardened guy, loyal above anything self-serving and wants only to be in the mix if there’s action involved. He’s a long-time friend of the family, one who has been more than just a henchman for Joe, but a kind of brother to Eddie. This matters because as the present day story unfolds, we as the audience are piecing together the mystery of the unidentified cop, and with this scene, we now know for sure it can’t be Mr. Blonde . . . nor Eddie or Joe.
The timing of the moment is perfect as it comes before Vega’s iconic and infamous ear-slicing moment and well-after suspicions of a rat has been introduced. From here, we move forward knowing that Mr. Blonde is more than just one of the unknown members of the group. He is connected, a familial part of Joe’s inner ring, and beyond that, crucially, unwaveringly loyal. This makes everything he does after more impactful as he jumps from potential good guy undercover to straight-up monster. It’s a great moment.