Cult Classic: Reservoir Dogs

Stars: ★★★☆

Summary:  A realistic, gut-punch of a movie.

Reservoir Dogs

Review: ‘Reservoir Dogs’ is filmmaking wizard Quentin Tarantino’s first (completed) film. It’s a compelling and shocking re-imagining of the typical cops & robbers heist film. It’s the kind of story where everything goes wrong. This time around, we are set up to empathize with the bad guys, a team of hired men assigned by their ring leader, Joe, to steal some diamonds.  They all go by color-coded monikers, and keep their true names to themselves.  When the robbery hits the fan, the survivors immediately suspect that they’ve been set up by the police, and it’s only a matter of time until they discover the traitor.

‘Dogs’ wields an aggressively realistic tone.  The dialog, already well-written, is enhanced by frantic, vulgar, and sometimes funny ad-libbing from the ensemble cast.  The violence, in contrast to the extended, pattering dialog, is short, brutal, and too the point, except for one scene: an infamous torture scene that’s ridiculously hard to sit through.  Tarantino faced (and faces still) great criticism of this scene, but he defends it by acknowledging that the typically horrified reaction of the viewer is exactly what he hoped for.  As good as the film is on the large part, I really can’t justify the sheer brutality of the scene (although, it must be noted, it’s mostly psychological in nature), but the upside is that it leads to a fantastic and cathartic reveal of the traitor.

Like most of Tarantino’s filmography, there appears to be a philosophical bent to the film’s action and conclusions.  This is a window into the world of the cinematic villains that we usually want dead or jailed.  It’s an exercise in empathy.  It’s an acknowledgment of universal humanity and, as Ronnie James Dio would suggest, that we all have “Heaven and Hell” in us.  There’s some major, usually unspoken debate in Christianity as to the moral value of humanity: Are we basically evil, or basically good?  The answer, of course, is both.

‘Reservoir Dogs’ is smart, shocking, uncomfortable, funny, and sobering art.  It has my recommendation to guys and dolls with a strong stomach.

The International

Stars:  **1/2 out of Four

Summary:  Decent plot, great acting, and striking visuals make for a good R-rated thriller.

A good poster, from the most shocking scene of the movie.  But Naomi Watts character was not present in the actual scene.

A good poster, from the most shocking scene of the movie. But Naomi Watts' character was not present in the actual scene.

Review:  I went to the movies this Friday the 13th, of the month of February, to see my second R-rated feature in theaters.  It wasn’t ‘Friday the 13th’.  It was ‘The International’, a surprising, globe-trotting crime thriller with a single action set piece.  That’s right, just one; don’t believe what the trailers have told you, this is not an action movie.  The slow pace may put off the people who are looking for an adrenaline buzz.  That’s not to say that the single action scene we are shown is not impressive; it is remarkably well executed, grounded, and intense.  Everybody involved gets hurt.  Boy, do they hurt.  It’s very shocking and bloody, especially for such an exhaustively realistic picture.  You feel somewhat guilty for enjoying it, actually.

Enough about that.  I did say that the film is “exhaustively realistic”, and that may be an exaggeration, but it somehow works.  I really believed in the characters.  The writing was somewhat thin, or blunt, at times, but the actors really managed to carry it to unprecedented heights.  Clive Owen is especially good.  He portrays an INTERPOL agent who teeters on the very edge of becoming corrupted by his fight against the titular bank, and I sometimes questioned how far he would go.  Yet he remains noble, and a very human hero, much more so than most recent protagonists in action films.  Alongside him is Naomi Watts as his (not romantic) partner, who provides his conscience and just plain good sense at times.  Not that he lacks those things; she just gives them a public voice.

Opposite Owen and Watts are several very good actors playing the heads of various arms manufacturers and, of course, the bank.  There is some very good interplay between Owen’s character and a former Communist, now a top player in the bank, which gives us insight into how both men see the world. How they interact is the best part of this movie, hands down.

I won’t bore you with details of the plot.  I thought it was good entertainment, if dark and shockingly violent at times.  As Ebert would say, two thumbs up.

NOTE:  The Stars rating has been lowered from *** to **1/2, not because I think less of the film, but because I realize I may have overrated it.