Study Guide

Reservoir Dogs

Reservoir Dogs Introduction


Release Year: 1992

Genre: Crime, Drama

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Writer: Quentin Tarantino, Roger Avary

Stars: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen


  
  • Intense violence and excessive amounts of blood? Check. 
  • Innumerable pop culture references? Check. 
  • Brilliantly written, realistic dialogue? Check. 
  • Crazy, nonlinear story line? Check. 
  • Subversion of typical genre film? Check.
  • Intense violence and excessive amounts of blood? Did we say that already? It's worth another check—there is so. much. gore.

It's official. We've entered the world of Quentin Tarantino.

And not just any world—we've entered the very first world. This is the world that took film director Tarantino from stocking shelves at a video store to being stocked on shelves at every video store.

Reservoir Dogs is about the aftermath of a heist gone awry. It's set at the rendezvous point for six strangers who pulled a job stealing diamonds. The heist was a total disaster. Some of them are dead, some of them are shot, and the ones who aren't dying are wondering one thing: who set them up? The movie's about how these guys relate to each other in the blood-soaked aftermath of the failed heist.

The movie stars Harvey Keitel as the oldest gangster, Mr. White; Steve Buscemi as the high-strung Mr. Pink; Tim Roth as the eternally bleeding Mr. Orange; and Michael Madsen as the man who makes psychopathy look cool, Mr. Blonde. Yep, they've got color-coded names—these guys aren't allowed to know anything about each other.

Reservoir Dogs was produced by LIVE Entertainment with a tiny budget of just $1.5 million. It debuted in 1992 at a variety of independent film festivals including Sundance, where it was the most talked-about film of the year. It was nominated for and won a number of awards during its run in independent festivals during '92 and '93 and was met with plenty of critical success. It broke box office records in the U.K., but did just okay in the U.S. 

Of course, when Tarantino released his second film, Pulp Fictionwhich became a major success and cult classic—fans went back and realized just how worthy Reservoir Dogs was. And just like that, it joined the ranks of Tarantino hits.

What is Reservoir Dogs About and Why Should I Care?

What do you think of when you think Reservoir Dogs? Probably something along the lines of, "Oh God, not his ear!" Believe it or not, though, Reservoir Dogs is more than tons o'blood and a few f-bombs (okay, a ton of f-bombs) coming out of the mouths of a bunch of criminals.

It's not often that a directorial debut with an independent film has the same impact on the film industry as Reservoir Dogs. Many sources, including Empire Magazine, cited the film as one of, and in some cases, the greatest or most influential independent film of all time.

Reservoir Dogs brought attention not just to itself, but to all movies and filmmakers outside of the traditional Hollywood domain. Just as the movie borrows from so many other films and film genres, countless films have now borrowed from Reservoir Dogs: movies using similar storylines with mixed up fragments and character backgrounds, movies which mirror the quick back and forth dialogue and pop culture references, and the jarring violence.

Maybe you don't care so much about the past and future of movie making. That's okay: There's still important stuff in Reservoir Dogs. This bloodbath of a heist film deals with the problem of violence and psychopathic behavior, and it questions the morality of deceit during the pursuit of justice.

It shows us that even hardened criminals have certain principles… even if they're demented principles. It forces us to think about desperate measures and rash actions and false personas and exactly how long it would take to bleed out from a stomach wound. It's a lesson about how quickly things can get nasty between people when things don't go as planned. It forces us to think about movie violence and what the word "gratuitous" means.

Most importantly, it teaches us a few conspiracy theories about the true meaning of Madonna's "Like a Virgin."

Trivia

Tipping Point
Steve Buscemi said that he had to over-tip in restaurants after the movie was made, to compensate for his character's unwillingness to tip. People thought he was actually like that in real life. (Source.)

It Won't Ever Be on Network TV.
Reservoir Dogs has the fifteenth highest "F" word per minute count of all movies. There's a total of 269, averaging 2.7 per minute. That Tarantino has quite the mouth on him. (Source)

Art Imitates Life
Lawrence Tierney was apparently a pretty tough character in real life, arrested many times while drunk for assault and disorderly conduct. In an interview with his nephew Tim Tierney, Tim recalls that Lawrence, during an off day of filming Reservoir Dogs, "tried to shoot my cousin (his nephew) Michael and ended up doing some time at a prison camp for it. Tarantino said, "he was taken from his bail arraignment to the set." (Source)

Now That's What We Call Method Acting
Kirk Baltz (who played Marvin Nash), asked Michael Madsen (Blonde) to drive him around in the trunk to get into character. Madsen said, "After he got in I drove around the neighborhood for a little while because I then realized it was a good idea for me also to get into character. I don't think he appreciated it so I had to later remind him it was his idea." (Source)

Reservoir Dogs Resources

Websites

Where it All Went Down
Check out this webpage with descriptions and pictures of the various filming locations used on the movie. RIP warehouse, you will be missed.

Shop Till You Drop
You know a movie's a cult classic (or a Disney blockbuster) when you can buy the iPhone case and coffee mug.

It's a Small World After All
HuffPost takes you inside the mystically interrelated world of all of Tarantino's films.

Adaptations

Too Crazy for Killarney
Actor Michael Fassbender staged a live theater version of Dogs in his hometown of Killarney, Ireland in 1995. He was eighteen years old at the time. The idea was to give the box office receipts to charity, but because of the film's reputation, no one wanted to take the money.

Reservoir Redux
In 2012, director Jason Reitman produced a live reading of the script with an all black cast. It got rave reviews.

Reservoir Games
In 2006, a Reservoir Dogs video game was released. Gamestop called it "neither a good action game on its own merits, nor quality fan service, Reservoir Dogs is an out and out failure." Oh. Maybe we should return the PS4 we just bought.

Articles and Interviews

You Haven't Answered My Question
The always fast paced, excitable Tarantino gives us the lowdown on various casting and directing things, plus a little background on himself and the film's journey from conception to production.

Tarantino Explains It All
Robert Rodrigues interviews Tarantino about everything. Well, almost everything. The rest is in Volume 2.

Talking Torture
Michael Madsen discusses that gruesome scene, among other things.

Video

The Reservoir Dogs Reservoir
A giant, three-hour long video with all sorts of miscellaneous goodies. It's quite the trek to sit through the whole thing, but we recommend checking out the interviews with the actors, the deleted scenes, and the "securing the shot". Check out the time stamps below the video for easy navigation.

Rehearsal Dogs
Check out these scenes of Buscemi and Tarantino practicing some lines. It's fun to go back and forth and note what changes were made in the dialogue and how Keitel's delivery differs from Tarantino's.

Reservoir… Bunnies?
This is an ultra-condensed version of Reservoir Dogs, with bunnies. It pretty much nails it. You don't need to even see the movie at all. Why bunnies? Why not bunnies?

Torturous Tunes
Tarantino thought that "Stuck in the Middle with You" was the perfect song to accompany torture, and apparently so does Vic Vega. You can't play a radio song on repeat, though (unless it's Taylor Swift), which old Mr. Blonde learns the hard way.

The Most Coveted Pseudonym
While Mr. Pink wasn't too happy about his name selection, we think it's an awesome name. The Lisbon Gay and Lesbian Film Festival does too.

Lou Scannon on the Job
A spot-on comedic parody of the hiring and planning process for the job where Mr. Blonde is "Lou Scannon" who, in case you couldn't tell by his name (say it fast), is a bit of a wild card.

When Bad Luck Goes Bad
Here's a rare deleted scene not found anywhere else. You'll get some insight into Joe's and Mr. White's past that might just change how you view the entire movie.

Images

Blood Brothers
No explanation necessary.

Every Dog has His Color
It's not a black suit and skinny tie, but get the tee and you'll attract other Dogs fans.

Minimalist
Who knew minimalism could be so exciting? Reservoir Dogs is a couple images down, but check out all of them while you're there. It's especially fun to cover up the title and see if you can guess what movie it is… it's not easy.

It's a Dog Meet Dog World
What if our goodfellas were replaced by everyone's favorite pooches? Sorry Clifford, there is no Mr. Red… unless you count Mr. Orange (who was pretty red for most of the movie).

Reservoir Ducks
Anaheim Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen is a fan.