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"Five men team up to commit the perfect crime. They don't know each other's name. But they've got each other's color."
Reservoir Dogs is Quentin Tarantino's 1992 debut as a director and a screenwriter. The film largely takes place in the aftermath of a jewelry heist gone wrong. After the robbery is interrupted by the police, the surviving criminals — all of whom are using color-based pseudonyms, and none of whom knew the others before this job — escape to an abandoned warehouse and try to work out what went wrong, eventually deciding that there must be an undercover cop in their midst. Frequent flashbacks give the back story of several of the characters and fill in the details of the crime, telling the story in a non-linear fashion (which would become Tarantino's Signature Style); in fact, the movie contains a lot of elements Tarantino would use in later films, such as brutal violence and Seinfeldian Conversation (though not at the same time).
A video game was produced that followed the plot of the movie and allowed the player to actually commit the heist that was only alluded to in the film.
This film provides examples of:
- Actor Allusion:
- Eddie Bunker, whose appearance as Mr. Blue was little more than a cameo, was a real life bank robber, drug dealer, forger, and extortionist, and became famous through his crime books. Lawrence Tierney also had a checkered criminal past.
- Joe says at one point that Mr. Blue is "as dead as Dillinger". Tierney's first major film role was playing John Dillinger in the titular 1945 film.
- All Issues Are Political Issues: Mr. Pink does this at the beginning, as he explains the political philosophy behind tipping.
- Alliterative Name: Vic Vega.
- Anyone Can Die: Hoo, boy.
- Asshole Victim: Inverted with Marvin Nash and Mr. Orange, since they haven't been asshole cops for months. Granted, their misery doesn't excuses their constant swearing, however.
- Sure, Mr. Orange himself ain't no complete saint, even when he kills Mr. Blonde. But who cares about said dead guy anyway?
- And in the final scene, Mr. White in a Mexican Standoff killing Joe Cabot and his son, Nice Guy Eddie.
- Ax Crazy: Mr. Blonde's trigger happy behavior leads to Mr. Pink's realization that they were set up, when the cops show up early. He's the only member of the team that Pink declares that he absolutely trusts not to be a rat — "he's too damn homicidal to be working with the cops!"
- Badass in a Nice Suit: Complete with Cool Shades.
- Berserk Button: Several.
- Nice Guy Eddie: Don't threaten his dad.
- Mr. Blonde: He doesn't like alarms. Don't insinuate that he has a "boss". It's probably not a good idea to be in the same city as Mr. Blond either.
- Mr. White: Don't call him an asshole. Don't threaten people he has gotten to like.
- Mr Orange: Turns out that torturing cops and preparing to set fire to them while they're still alive in front of him is a bad idea.
- Beware the Nice Ones: The aptly-named "Nice Guy" Eddie (who is really only comparatively nice) is chubby, goofy, and really doesn't look too threatening, especially when surrounded by cool criminals in suits and ties. By the time he got really serious, his manner of speaking changed to something deep, diabolically raspy, and utterly psychotic.
- The Big Board: Behind Joe in the codename assigning scene.
- Blond Guys Are Evil: Played with, as the only outright evil heist member is "Mr. Blonde", although he isn't actually blond-haired.
- Brutal Honesty: Blonde gives the cop an honest lecture on the type of man he is, and what the cop should expect.
- Big Damn Heroes: A variation with Mr. Orange.
- The Cameo:
- Captain Obvious: When Mr. Blonde is asked about Mr. Blue's fate.
Mr. Blonde: Either he's alive or he's dead, or the cops got him, or they don't.
- Cast the Expert: Eddie Bunker lived as a criminal and thief many years before becoming a writer. He plays Mr Blue.
- Cluster F-Bomb: It's a Tarantino film, what did you expect? One gem:
Fuck you! Fuck you! I'm fucking dying here! I'm fucking dying!
- Cold-Blooded Torture: The infamous scene.
- Color Coded for Your Convenience: Played with; although each of the robbers has a colour-based codename (Mr. White, Mr. Orange, Mr. Pink, Mr. Brown, Mr. Blue, and Mr. Blonde), they all wear identical black suits, shades, and have their (mostly dark) hair slicked back in order to make identification more difficult for witnesses.
- Death by Disfigurement: The cop is killed after he receives facial scars and loses an ear, even pointing out that he's "deformed" before he's killed.
- Died in Your Arms Tonight: Albeit with a twist.
- Distracted From Death: Subverted. When Mr. White and Mr. Pink come back from talking in a separate room, they briefly think that Mr. Orange died while they were away, but they realize that he has presumably just passed out.
- Downer Ending: Everyone, except Mr.Pink, dies. Even then, it's likely he was caught by cops.
- Dramatic Irony: Everything. Everything. Especially when you watch it again.
- Duct Tape for Everything: Specifically, for restraining captured police officers.
- Establishing Character Moment: We learn everything we need to know about the main four gangsters in the opening diner scene. Mr. Pink refuses to tip the waitress, showing that he's self-centered and has little sympathy for others. Mr. White gets angry at him and passionately explains why waitresses need tips, showing that he's good-natured and sympathetic. Mr. Blonde jokingly offers to shoot him for not tipping, showing that he's a violent psychopath. And Mr. Orange rats him out to Joe for not tipping--foreshadowing the revelation that he's the rat.
- Even Evil Has Standards: The other characters are pretty disgusted by Mr. Blonde's actions. And disgusted at Mr. Pink's refusal to tip the waitress.
- Extremely Short Timespan: The majority of the movie is set during a scant few hours immediately following the heist.
- Faux Affably Evil: Mr. Blonde.
- Flash Back: Several, for most of the main characters. Denied by Tarantino, who claims to hate these scenes being referred to as flashbacks, and prefers to think of it as a particular order that the audience will receive information in. Lending credence to this is the fact that none of the flashback scenes are preceded by a character reminiscing to past events.
- Fluffy the Terrible: Nice Guy Eddie. All of the really murderous robbers have names like "Mr. Pink" and "Mr. Blonde".
- Foil: Everybody acts as a foil to Mr. White. Whereas Mr. White is a relatively moral guy, Mr. Blonde is a cheerfully amoral psychopath. Whereas Mr. White is governed more by his emotions (as evidenced by his attachment to Orange), Mr. Pink is a logical and professional guy. Whereas White is very experienced and knowledgeable, Mr. Orange is very inexperienced.
- Foreshadowing: Loads. The opening sequence foreshadows about half the movie. Orange's flashback foreshadows the ending. There's even foreshadowing combined with Visual Gag. Pay close attention to any object whose color matches one of the main characters' names.
- Four-Temperament Ensemble: The four main gangsters:
- Mr. White is Sanguine--The good-natured, charismatic veteran who sticks up for the rookie and remains optimistic when everything goes to hell.
- Mr. Pink is Choleric--The domineering, obsessive perfectionist who takes charge when the heist goes awry.
- Mr. Blonde is Melancholic--The stone-cold, introverted Badass who hides his psychopathic streak from the others.
- Mr. Orange is Phlegmatic--The naive rookie who looks up to the others and remains trusting when he gets in over his head.
- Geek: Mr. Orange. In a flashback, model painting kits and Silver Surfer posters can be seen in his apartment; he is also knowledgeable about pop culture (mentioning the Fantastic Four in one scene), but not to the extent of being able to distinguish one Madonna song from another.
- Gory Discretion Shot: Used during the infamous torture scene.
- Guns Akimbo: Mr. White in the film.
- Hold Me: Mr. Orange to Mr. White.
- Human Shield: Mr. Blonde escapes the shootout by using a cop as one; the same cop he tortures.
- I Have a Family: The line is actually improv, and made finishing the scene more difficult for Madsen.
- Informed Attribute: Subverted/inverted. Mr. Blonde's psychopathic nature is only told by Mr. White and Mr. Pink in the beginning, but then becomes impossibly evident afterward.
- Instant Death Bullet: Famously averted with Mr. Orange and Mr. Brown and, at the end, Mr. White. Yet played straight with Nice Guy Eddie, Joe, the tortured cop, and more than likely, the woman Orange had to shoot.
- Ironic Nickname: "Nice Guy" Eddie is anything but. Vic goes by the name Mr. Blonde during the heist but he doesn't have blond hair.
- It Amused Me: "It amuses me to torture a cop."
- Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Proposed, but shot down by Nice Guy Eddie: "If you fucking beat this prick long enough, he'll tell you he started the goddamn Chicago fire, now that don't necessarily make it fucking so!"
- Jerkass: Every named character in this movie, especially Mr. Pink and Nice Guy Eddie. Mr. Blonde is more than that, however.
- And to a lesser extent, the cops as well. They ain't no better than the thieves either.
- Left Hanging: Mr. Pink's fate. You have to listen close, but you hear him get caught by the police.
- Let Me Get This Straight...: Nice Guy Eddie does this when he refuses to believe Mr. Orange's explanation for why he had to shoot Mr. Blonde:
Nice Guy Eddie: Okay, let me just say this out loud, cause I wanna get this straight in my head. You're saying that Mr. Blonde was gonna kill you, and then when we got back he was gonna kill us, take the satchel of diamonds and scram, I'm right about that right, that's correct, that's your story?
- Karma Meter: Most characters in the game have their deaths already determined, but your level of bloodthirst determines the ultimate fate of Mr. Pink. Kill everything that moves, and he'll try and fail to fight the police. Kill sometimes, and he'll surrender when the cops surround him. Kill rarely, and he'll realize he can't get the jewels, and leave without any riches, but with his life and his freedom.
- Kill'Em All: The only survivor is Mr. Pink. You need to listen closely for Mr. Pink's fate: you hear him get caught by the police. The Waitress makes it, though.
There is confusion among some viewers as to whether Mr. White shot Mr. Orange, or if one cop shot first to prompt the others. Even if he wasn't shot by Mr. White, he was still left bleeding and dying for roughly an hour after his first gunshot and was shot a second time by Joe. It's unlikely he would have survived.
- Manly Tears: Averted. Mr. Orange, Mr. White, and the cop break down into hysterics when shot or tortured. Not that anyone could blame them.
- Mexican Standoff
- Meaningful Name: The crew of Reservoir Dogs have randomly assigned code names that fit their nature somewhat.
- Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) is the most pure of the group, being the one who is morally opposed to killing civilians and tips waitresses because he feels they deserve it.
- Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) seems to epitomise the phrase 'Blondes have more fun' - he does sadistic and cruel things purely For the Evulz. Blonde is also not a traditional name for a color, distinguishing him from the rest to some degree.
- Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) is a man of layers, much like the fruit - he is, by turns, a young wannabe Badass, a Geek, a crying hysterical mess, and a very brave cop. Also, he has a Dutch surname, and orange is the national colour of the Netherlands. As well as this, there's a type of orange called 'blood orange'; Mr. Orange spends most of the movie soaked in his own blood as he slowly dies. It may also be significant that his the only color of the bunch that has no rhyming word, thus marking him as the "odd man out". This is fitting, as he is an undercover cop hanging out with a gang of hardened criminals.
- Mr. Brown (Quentin Tarantino) says his name is too close to "Mr. Shit". He starts off the movie dribbling shit. Also, he dies pretty much right away, and everyone knows what you do when you die...
- Mr. Blue (Eddie Bunker) stays cool and quiet all through the movie. It could also be a reference to his 1981 semi-autobiography Little Boy Blue.
- Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) is the most cautious of the group. He's also the only member to end up in the pink - that is, alive. Also, he's the only one to use his brain. Brains, while referred to as "gray matter", are more pink.
- Minimalism: Reservoir Dogs doesn't actually show the jewel heist, nor does it show much of anything. With the vast majority of the film set in an empty warehouse that is serving as the gangsters' hideout, we don't get to see the elaborate planning or the shootouts that ensued; instead, what we get to see is the crooks sitting around discussing the aftermath. The film also has no orchestral score, relying instead on select songs to carry the audience through quiet passages.
- Mirror Monologue: Orange has one before meeting the group.
- The Mole: Mr. Orange.
- Monochrome Casting: Would prove to be atypical of Tarantino, though.
- Moral Myopia: Mr. White is sickened by the fact that Mr. Blonde killed random innocent civilians, yet kills cops without remorse.
- My God, What Have I Done?: In the final scene of the movie, Mr. White realizes too late that he killed his boss so he could protect a police informant.
- Nice Guy: Subverted with White. He's the most likable of the thieves, sticks his neck out for Mr. Orange, and expresses moral disgust at Mr. Blonde's behavior, but he's also a cold-blooded murderer who slaughters several cops and has no qualms with brutalizing people up for their money. "Nice Guy" Eddie is a more obvious subversion, being a cocky crime prince.
- Noble Demon: Mr. White may be the most likeable and moral of the criminals, but he's still a ruthless criminal willing to commit murder if necessary.
- Noodle Incident: We see the planning and we see the aftermath, and we get plenty of hints about what went down, but the actual heist itself goes unseen.
- No Name Given: Mr. Pink, Mr. Brown and Mr. Blue. While Mr. White's real name is never mentioned in the completed cut, it's revealed to be Larry Dimmick in a few unused scenes.
- Only Sane Man: Mr. Pink spends a lot of time playing this role ("Am I the only fucking professional here!?") as things get more heated between the other thieves.
- Oblivious Guilt Slinging: Kinda taken to the next level. White takes a bullet trying to convince Joe that Orange is not the rat. Orange feels indebted. Problem is, he actually is the rat.
- Politically-Incorrect Villain: Ethnic slurs abound, and several characters display casual racism and misogyny in conversation. They are all Villain Protagonists after all.
- The Power of Trust: Subverted and played horribly straight in the same action. Orange tells White that he's a cop, obviously upset due to White having taken a bullet for him now. White, horrified at the revelation, shoots him,... maybe.
- Power Walk: The gang does this just before the credits. This is probably one of the most famous images form the movie.
- Protagonist-Centered Morality: Mr. White's attitude towards Mr. Orange.
- Protectorate: Mr. White's desire to protect Mr. Orange is what leads to a Mexican Standoff and a subsequent Blast Out.
- Psycho for Hire: Mr. Blonde.
- Reality Subtext: Note in the opening scene when the gang are discussing Madonna, Nice Guy Eddie keeps out of the discussion. His actor, Chris Penn, deferred from saying anything on screen about his former sister-in-law.
- The Reveal: The undercover cop is Mr. Orange.
- Seinfeldian Conversation: About the meaning of "Like a Virgin" and why Mr. Pink doesn't tip waitresses, among other things. Those first two conversations are loaded with double meanings and Foreshadowing, however.
- Sliding Scale of Gender Inequality: Level 1 - There Are No Women. Please keep in mind that Tropes Are Not Bad.
- Soundtrack Dissonance:
- Stock Scream: The infamous Wilhelm scream can be heard as Mr. Pink flees the scene of the crime.
- The Stoic:
- Deconstructed with Mr. Blonde. He's an unflappable, perma-cool stoic... because he's also a complete Ax Crazy sociopath.
- Mr. Blue fits this considering he barely has any lines.
- Story Within a Story: Even as Mr. Orange is relating his story about walking past three cops in the bathroom with a briefcase full of drugs, one of the cops in the story is talking about how he nearly blew away someone reaching for his license and registration.
- Ten Little Murder Victims: The film's main plot.
- Theme Naming: Mr. Orange, Mr. White, Mr. Pink, Mr. Brown... you get the idea. It's even lampshaded by Mr. Pink and Joe.
- Too Spicy for Yog Sogoth: Meta example - the film's violence caused Wes Craven to walk out in disgust.
- Torture Always Works: Averted, at least in terms of acquiring information effectively. Mr. Blonde doesn't really care if the policeman can tell him anything useful, he just tortures him for the hell of it. "Nice Guy" Eddie kindly deconstructs the trope for us:
"If you fucking beat this prick long enough, he'll tell you he started the goddamn Chicago fire! Now, that don't necessarily make it fucking so!"
- Ultimately subverted in that it turns out the cop dude knows who the rat was and wasn't saying anything under the torture.
- Trunk Shot: The first movie Tarantino used it in, in fact.
- The Verse: Word of God is that this movie takes place in the same universe as Pulp Fiction, and that Vic Vega/Mr. Blonde is Vincent Vega's brother. Common Fanon is that the mysterious case in Pulp Fiction held the diamonds from this movie's heist. Tarantino himself confirmed that this was supposed to be the case, but changed it to an Unreveal because he liked the idea of the audience coming up with their own interpretation.
- Two Words: Mr. Pink has them: "Learn to fucking type."
- Villain Protagonist: Pretty much everybody, as the main characters display Black and Grey Morality at best. Although White is a Noble Demon and Orange is arguably good. Well, except for shooting the civilian woman during the carjacking in retaliation to being shot himself.
- Villainous Breakdown: In the finale of the movie, Nice Guy Eddie when he finds out from Mr. Orange about Mr. Blonde wanting to ripping them off, and when he gets involved in the Mexican Standoff between him, his dad and Mr. White.
- Mr. White when he finds out that his newfound friend is actually a police informant all along.
- What Could Have Been:
- Tarantino was originally just going to write and act in the film — the person he actually wanted to direct was Monte Hellman, who had directed some cult films way back in the '60s and '70s, but was way past the best of his career by that stage - his last film had been the abysmally poor Silent Night, Deadly Night III, for perspective. A Hellman-directed version of Reservoir Dogs might not have been a total disaster, but it's hard to see it being anywhere near as good as what we ended up with. Fortunately, Tarantino eventually summoned up the courage to direct the film himself.
- Samuel L. Jackson auditioned for the role of Mr. White — being cast as Jules Winfield was a favor for not getting the part. One would expect that the naming scene would have included some objections over a black man getting the name Mr. White.
- Tarantino wanted James Woods to act in the film, but Woods' agent turned it down...without consulting Woods himself, for which he was fired. It's not clear which role Tarantino had in mind, though most fans suspect it was Mr. Orange.
- Timothy Carey was considered for the role of Joe, and evidently liked the script a great deal. Reasons vary as to why he was not cast. On one DVD extra, Tarantino (who dedicated the Dogs script to Carey, among others) claimed that he felt the famously difficult to direct Carey would have been more trouble than he was worth, before admitting that "Timothy Carey at his worst could not possibly have been more difficult than Lawrence Tierney." Another story holds that Carey auditioned, but was vetoed by Keitel, acting in his capacity as producer.
- What Measure Is a Mook?: Mr. Pink asks Mr. White if he had to kill anyone. White admits to killing a few cops, to which Pink replies, "Any real people?" The response: "No, just cops."
- White Shirt of Death: Badass in a Nice Suit + Kill'Em All = this trope.
- Word Salad Title: "Reservoir Dogs" comes from Tarantino's video store boss referring to Au revoir les enfants as "that reservoir dogs movie." Tarantino simply liked the phrase, and it has no official meaning in regards to the film. Unless you count it as a pun on "dam(n) sons of bitches".
- Worlds Smallest Violin: Mr. Pink plays the world's smallest violin for underpaid waitresses during a debate about tipping.
Mr. Pink: Do you know what this is? This is the world's smallest violin playing just for the waitresses.