Reservoir Dogs is a crime-noir picture about criminals with code names- whom have never met before- being brought together to do one a once-in-a-lifetime heist. They are given a job to steal uncut diamonds being shipped from Israel during rush hour in Los Angeles. The characters are: Joe Cabot (boss), Nice Guy Eddie (underboss), Mr. White, Mr. Blonde, Mr. Orange, Mr. Brown, Mr. Blue and Mr. Pink. All of the criminals have some connection to Joe except for Mr. Orange whom is recruited on spec. Which I might add is a pretty big no-no in the criminal underworld. Especially for a supposed experienced and aging crime boss. The gang spends a significant amount of time planning the robbery and when the day of the heist finally goes down- all hell breaks loose. Mr. Blonde- our lovable psychopath- executes the hostages one by one when the alarm is tripped. The gang is immediately ambushed by cops. The film primarily takes place in a warehouse which is set as the rendezvous after the heist. There, the surviving gang members determine that one of their own is a rat. With the cops closing in, they are on a race against time to figure out whom the rat is and to escape with the diamonds. To casual movie-goers: this story is a fun and yet violent neo-noir crime film. But, does the film have a deeper meaning? Let’s find out.
First let’s analyze the title. “Reservoir”- our first word- means to keep. Pretty straightforward. Joe Cabot is an Italian mob boss, probably one of the last in Tarantino’s universe that controls Los Angeles. Cabot in some way, shape or form has access or personal relationships with most of the main players or “Dogs” (Mr. Blonde, Mr. White, Mr. Pink, Mr. Blue, Mr. Brown). Cabot acts as a reservoir for the criminals. He reigns them in to do one a once-in-a-lifetime jewelry heist.
The second word in the title- “Dogs.” You could interpret Dogs to mean the characters themselves and the lives that they lead. They are all murderers, rapists, thieves.
The picture is all about anecdotes. Stories. Tales that each of the dogs tell to gain the others respect and to build comradery. It’s a way to subconsciously tell the other murderers that you’re just like them. You’re a team player. You’re not going to get any of them killed being selfish or stupid.
Empathy and having common interests is key. Example: one of the reoccurring motifs in the film is music. The film begins with Mr. Brown’s analysis to a song. The song in question is “Like a Virgin” by Madonna. The deconstruction of a ditzy pop song avalanches into an argument about whether or not it’s honorable to tip waitresses.
This dialogue is only meant to do one thing- to show the bonding between the characters. You’ve probably been on a sports team, worked a job or were on the girl scouts and so you know that communication, respect and bonding with your teammates is essential to success. You get to know your partners- their weaknesses, their ticks- everything. Without that level of intimacy, failure is the only outcome- and that goes double in the criminal underworld where the outcome is either getting killed or getting pinched.
Mr. Orange is one of the key characters in the film. It is revealed towards the end of the second act that he is the undercover cop that the other dogs are looking for. His job is especially dangerous. Unlike the other gangsters whom are tasked with performing the perfect robbery and maintaining a working relationship with their crooks- Mr. Orange must also pretend like he’s one of them. How does he do that you ask? With the Commode Story.
The Commode Story is an anecdote about a drug deal Orange’s alter ego was on and the other source of “dogs” in the title. In it, Orange walks into a bathroom before the deal goes down and discovers four cops and a police-dog standing right in the middle of the men’s room telling war stories amongst each other. As one of the cops comments on how close he came close to blowing a suspect’s head off during a traffic stop- Orange becomes increasingly paranoid when the police-dog starts barking at him. The dog can obviously smell the drugs on him. Even as the cop tells the dog to “shut up” that’s not enough to ease Orange’s mind. Orange presses a button that operates the hand-dryer on a nearby wall and there is a beat where all of the cops look and stare at him. Pretty intense stuff right? Well, Orange practices this story for days before telling it to Joe, Nice Guy Eddie and Mr. White. They all laugh and agree that Orange was in a super stressful situation but got through it, proving that he had the stones for job.
It is this bit of storytelling that sells his character to Mr. White. He bonds with Mr. White who is both the one of the most competent and emotionally weakest among the gang. Mr. White is so convinced and invested into Orange’s character that he reveals White reveals his true identity to him and defends him when Joe and the others discover that Orange is a cop. This of course leads to one of Tarantino’s famous Mexican Standoffs. In a sense, the whole film plays out like a Commode story.
The biggest theme of Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs is that although essential to success- emotional attachments to others can compromise one’s judgement. Mr. White is truly the main victim of the story. He was so convinced that Mr. Orange was the real deal that he chose not to see any of the clues pointing to Orange.
White represents that emotional part of the criminal that people seem to gloss over. He isn’t a psychopath like his counterpart Mr. Blonde, nor is he a cynic like Mr. Pink. He’s someone who’s been double-crossed by an undercover cop before and because of this incident, distanced himself from his lover and partner, Alabama (another one of Tarantino’s characters). White and Orange’s relationship is the key to the entire picture and the overarching theme of the title.