Single Person’s Movie: Reservoir Dogs

It’s 2 a.m. and you awake with a jerk, alone in your fully lit apartment and still on the couch. On TV, the credits of some movie you’ve already seen a billion times are scrolling by. It feels like rock bottom. And we know, because we’re just like you: single.

Need a movie to keep you company until you literally can’t keep your eyes open? Join us tonight when we pass out to Reservoir Dogs [starting @ 10:15 p.m. on IFC]

Why we’ll try to stay up and watch it: One of the coolest Christmas gifts we received this year was the script for Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming Inglourious Basterds. It’s a fast read and typical of the Tarantino oeuvre–filled with flourishes of intense violence set between soliloquies spoken by men who were probably born with chewed cigars in their mouths. This being a Tarantino movie, there are strong women in central roles as well and, naturally, fetishistic attention is paid to their legs and feet. Come its release in August, fanboys will devour the material with gusto while the older critics will write about Mr. Tarantino’s wasted talent yet again. For all his skill, he seems to wantonly refuse to take up the moniker of "greatest living director".

And that got us thinking: What if the breathtaking originality of Pulp Fiction was the outlier for Mr. Tarantino? Maybe the former video store clerk was never supposed to be anything more than a throwback to the golden age of Hollywood–a director fluent in many genres. Take his first major film, Reservoir Dogs. We’ll readily admit that it doesn’t hold up to how we felt about it in high school (best movie ever!). But it’s still a perfect approximation of a studio system gangster film, albeit one covered with buckets of blood and a monologue about the origins of "Like a Virgin".

At the time of its release, Mr. Tarantino was accused of blatantly stealing large chunks of Reservoir Dogs from Japanese films, notably A Better Tomorrow and City on Fire. But those similarities are only superficial. The costumes and settings might have come from John Woo and Ringo Lam, but the thematic elements belong to John Huston and Raoul Walsh.

When we’ll probably fall asleep: There is no doubt that if Reservoir Dogs had actually been made in the ’40s, it would have starred people like Sidney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Edward G. Robinson and, of course, Humphrey Bogart. Since it wasn’t, we’re left with Michael Madsen, Harvey Keitel and Steve Buscemi, all more than able to uphold the virtues of those old-Hollywood tough guys. Still, of everyone involved, we always come back to the late Chris Penn. As Nice Guy Eddie (what a name!), Mr. Penn seethes, spits and pops; it’s a shame his life was cut short, if only because we can easily imagine him as a number of characters in Inglourious Basterds. At 11:45, 90 minutes into the movie, Mr. Penn has his career-defining moment, an accusatory monologue directed at the dying Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) that culminates with one of our favorite line readings ever: "He’s just going to decide–out of the fucking blue!–to rip us off?" It’s classic pulp dialogue written by a master and performed by a true professional. Mr. Tarantino might never be the next Orson Welles, but there’s no reason he can’t be Howard Hawks. Here’s hoping there’s a screwball comedy in his future … and ours.