Most heist films have three distinct acts: the planning of the robbery, the execution, and the aftermath. But in his debut film, Quentin Tarantino daringly omits the second act altogether and shuffles scenes from the first and third acts. Part of the fun (as always, with Tarantino) is playing spot-the-allusion (the time-jumping, perspective-shifting structure owes a debt to Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing; the final showdown echoes Hong Kong pulp director Ringo Lam’s City on Fire), and part of it comes from trying to put the puzzle pieces back together to find out what really happened (specifically: the identity of the mole, and when and whether the other team members will figure it out).
But most comes from the jazzy freshness of Tarantino’s voice, his kicky joy with the cinematic toolbox he gets to play with, from outrageous dialogue (that opening colloquy at the diner about Madonna and tipping) to even more outrageous violence (the ear scene has surely ruined Stealer’s Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle” for you forever). Plus, Tarantino gets the most out of a cast of character actors that includes old-school crime drama vet Laurence Tierney, Steve Buscemi, Michael Madsen (in the role he’ll be best remembered for), Tim Roth, and Mean Streets alumnus Harvey Keitel. In fact, what Mean Streets was to Tarantino’s generation of filmmakers, Reservoir Dogs has been to the generation that followed.
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