Reservoir Dogs (Tarantino, 1992)

In Reservoir Dogs (1992), director Quentin Tarantino provides a character study of the gangster. Instead of illustrating gangsters by depicting their actions during a crime scene, Tarantino chooses only to show how gangsters act before and after a crime. Because there is little action, and much dialogue, the characters become the central focus of the film. In the end, it seems that the role of the gangster is to act tough and cool, regardless of how they actually feel.

It is stereotypical of mobsters in a gangster film to be ultra violent, super macho, and full of testosterone, and Reservoir Dogs is no exception. In fact, the characters in Reservoir Dogs are ostensibly the extreme of this stereotype. The reason for this, I believe, is to emphasize certain inexorable qualities of the gangster.

The gangster’s tough, macho, and audacious attitude is necessary for their survival. They must be dangerous, and ready to kill; in this line of work, there is no room for pussys or the faint of heart – that will get you killed. To some extent, the gangster is unnecessarily violent; this is because they must convince both themselves and others of how tough and hardcore they are.

In Reservoir Dogs, the attitude of the characters, as well as the dialogue, is fueled with testosterone. There is much violence and profanity; they’re often talking about dicks and pussys, particularly in reference to songs by Madonna. The character of Mr. Blond (Michael Madsen) epitomizes this harsh attitude of the gangster; for example, he burns the tied up cop by extinguishing a lit cigarette on his body, and, later, cuts his ear off. In addition, examples of his harsh statements include: “are you gonna bite little doggie”, “I might break you in, but I’d make you my dog’s bitch”, and “you kids shouldn’t play so rough, somebody’s gonna start cryin’”.
On the other hand, although we do not see much of the crime, we are told in dialogue that Mr. Blond freaked out and fired his gun in a fit of panic and frenzy. Moreover, it seems that underneath the bravado, each of the gangsters are truly full of fear – they’re human after all! They are all, even Mr. Blonde, constantly on edge. In light of this, it seems that the gangster attitude is mostly an act. This explains how Mr. Blond can act so tough when it’s easy – he cut the ear off a defenseless man – but be stricken with fear when his life is actually in danger – the crime scene. Nevertheless, the gangster is fully committed to their role; this is demonstrated near the end of the film, when Joe (Lawrence Tierney), Mr. White (Harvey Kietel), and Eddie (Chris Penn) each have their guns raised. Because none of them are willing to back down, they all end up dead. It appears that, for the gangster, it is worse to be a pussy, than it is to die.

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About Kamran Ahmed

I have a Masters in Cinema Studies from the University of Toronto. I work as a freelance writer and film critic in Vancouver. My writing is primarily distributed through Next Projection, an online film journal based in Toronto.
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