Reservoir Dogs

Posted: July 27, 2019 in Book reviews

By Quentin Tarantino


Six criminals using codenames are hired to rob a jewellery store, but when they’re ambushed by the police a simple job turns into a bloody massacre. The survivors rendezvous at a deserted warehouse where it soon becomes apparent that one of them may be a rat.

Though not the first thing Tarantino wrote, Reservoir Dogs was his feature length debut, a violent crime thriller that cemented his reputation from the off as a man able to coolly marry violence with almost effortless dialogue.

Now I’ll be honest, I was never the greatest Reservoir Dogs fan in the world, it has a nasty streak running through it that always put me off somewhat, and I’m not even sure I could tell you the last time I watched it, but reading the script has planted the seed in my head of wanting to see it again because it reads so well.

In many ways Tarantino is a terrible example to look at if you’re planning to write screenplays yourself, not because he’s not good at what he does, but because he breaks so many rules. That he gets away with this shows you just how good a writer he is.

A standard rule of thumb is that sections of action or dialogue in a script should be relatively short, three or four lines at most, but Tarantino throws this rule out the window, douses it in petrol and sets fire to it while Stuck in the Middle with You plays on the stereo. Forget acres of whitespace as a good thing, his pages are packed with words, dense paragraphs three or four times the industry standard.

I suspect a lot of prospective screenwriters have flopped by trying to emulate Tarantino, thinking all it takes is cool, pop culture references and witty dialogue to write the next Pulp Fiction, but at his best there’s more to Tarantino than that.

His scene descriptions are quite stripped back, and at times his dialogue is relatively mundane taken out of context, it’s just that the turn of phrase he can bring to bear turns a chat about Like a Virgin, or the ethics of tipping into conversations you can’t take your ears off!

This is actually a sparse script, the story is fairly straightforward, we know early on who the undercover cop is, but the pleasure is in the interactions between the characters. Many have accused all Tarantino characters of sounding alike, I know I have on occasion, but on the page it’s so clear that every character in this has his own voice. You could remove the names and you’d still probably be able to identify Mr Pink’s dialogue, or Mr Blonde, or Nice Guy Eddie, or Mr White, and whilst you may not like these characters, they’re all interesting and they’re clearly each the hero of his own story.

I haven’t always liked everything Tarantino’s done, especially his later work, but reading Reservoir Dogs one thing is clear. The guy has talent.

Essential reading for fans of his work and/or those interested in screenwriting, just don’t plan on copying his style, because you’ll fall flat on your face if you do.

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