"Reservoir Dogs" features a number of scenes that have seared into the brains of film lovers since it was released back in 1992. I know that for me it was the opening scene at the diner that made an impression, featuring discussions of Madonna's "Like a Virgin" and the merits of tipping. I rented this movie from Blockbuster when I was around 12 years old expecting some big, cool action movie, but it was that opening scene that showed me that movies could be different from what I thought they were. It was after watching "Reservoir Dogs" that I wanted to learn more about it and, subsequently, who made it. In a lot of ways, the movie is my cinematic origin story, and I don't know if I'd be writing for this website without it.
If I were to ask what scene most sticks with people from Quentin Tarantino's debut feature, it would arguably be the scene in which Michael Madsen's Mr. Blonde tortures a police officer while dancing to Stealers Wheels' supremely catchy "Stuck in the Middle with You." Most of the discussion around that scene revolves around the brutality and tension, most notably the cutting off of the cop's ear. Even though the camera deliberately pans away from the action of the cutting, we still feel the agony of that act of violence. A lesser remarked upon element of the scene is its sudden end, where Tim Roth's Mr. Orange, who has been lying on the ground and passed out from excessive bleeding, unloads an entire clip of bullets into Mr. Blonde before he can kill the cop. I've seen it countless times, and every single time, that moment startles me. I always forget he's there, but that was entirely by Tarantino's design.
Hiding In Plain Sight
With a story that mostly takes place within one big room, hiding things from your audience can be difficult. They come to know the space so well that having something suddenly appear is basically impossible. However, Mr. Orange can go so undetected by the audience for long stretches of "Reservoir Dogs" due to his lack of involvement in the action. He's this immovable puddle of blood, becoming part of the set design rather than a character. Quentin Tarantino wanted to harness that element of Mr. Orange in the story and upend it at the right time. Speaking with Film Comment back in 1994, he talked about how he didn't need to hide Mr. Orange from the movie in order to make that moment work:
"One of the things about 'Reservoir Dogs' that really came off was how after a certain point you just forgot Orange was in the room. You can see him, he's there, but his presence becomes this lump. It wasn't like we even cheated by framing him out constantly so you get the illusion of being alone — Blonde actually goes over to him and still, he doesn't make the impression. So when Orange shoots him it's a real jolt."
Not only does Mr. Orange need to leave your mind for that scene, but he also needs to leave your mind because he's the undercover cop that has caused everything to go sideways. He isn't taking part in the arguments about who the rat is and considering his wound, you immediately dismiss the idea that it's him. Ultimately, Mr. Orange is the backbone of "Reservoir Dogs," and it's rather impressive he can be that when he's out of commission for about half the movie. It seems simple, but that's just because Tarantino executes it so well.
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