(director/writer: Quentin Tarantino; cinematographer: Andrzej Sekula; editor: Sally Menke; music: Karyn Rachtman; cast: Harvey Keitel (Mr. White/Larry Dimmick), Tim Roth (Mr. Orange/Freddy Newandyke), Michael Madsen (Mr. Blonde/Vic Vega), Steve Buscemi (Mr. Pink), Chris Penn (Nice Guy Eddie Cabot), Lawrence Tierney (Joe Cabot), Kirk Baltz (LAPD Officer Marvin Nash), Eddie Bunker (Mr. Blue), Quentin Tarantino (Mr. Brown); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Lawrence Bender; Miramax; 1992)

“You don’t have to love it to be impressed with its riveting treatment of criminals in action.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Quentin Tarantino’s auspicious debut as a director, in a film that proved to be a major influence in the way future crime films were made. It’s influenced, among others, by Hong Kong’s Ringo Lam’s City on Fire, as well as by Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing, Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets and Joseph Sargent’s The Taking of Pelham 123. This homage to such pulp crime films is a brilliant reworking of the familiar chestnut of the heist-gone-wrong thriller, though not necessarily better than Kubrick’s or Scorsese’s films.

It tells of crime boss Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney) and his son Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn) putting together a jewelry store heist that is botched because one of the men is a snitch. The five-man gang, all strangers, have color-coded aliases such as Mr. White, Mr. Blonde, etc.–names chosen by the aging crime boss. We never see the robbery going down, instead we follow the men before the caper when they are in a diner and chattering away about far ranging subjects including an argument put up by Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) about why it’s against his principles to tip and then we follow what happened after the robbery as the men try to get to a deserted warehouse where they agreed to meet and divide the diamonds. Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) while driving is comforting a scared Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) in the back seat, who took a bullet in the belly and is slowly bleeding to death. In their escape the car owner of the car they stole plugged him, and Mr.White is reassuring him that things will be fine when they get back to the warehouse. Mr. Pink soon shows, and says he got the diamonds stashed away because he didn’t think it was safe to bring it to the warehouse. Mr. White goes raving mad, saying Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) is a psychopath who unnecessarily went on a killing rampage of civilians and because of that he had to kill a number of cops to escape. When Mr. Blonde shows up with an LA cop (Kirk Baltz) he took hostage, the three thugs try to beat it out of him who the informer was that tipped them off to stake out the jewelry store. In a number of flashbacks that intercut from the warehouse scenario, we learn how the men were recruited for the job and we see how their character flaws work so much against them that it leads to their demise.

The power in the film is in its nonstop shocking roughhouse talk (the unnerving dialogue is intelligent, witty and mind-boggling) and the depiction of these warped characters as they try to deal with their own tensions and that they are perplexed there’s a betrayer in their honorable company. The snappy dialogue comes with racist and homophobic baggage (Jews are depicted as cheap, blacks as savages, and Mr. Pink is disturbed by that name because of its gay con-nation), which might be upsetting to some but no one can deny that these demented views certainly have a realistic feel to them. The squeamish might also be disturbed by all the gore (the screen is filled with a blood bath), the unrelenting sadistic nature of the hostage cop being tortured, and how the film intermixes banal comical conversations over such matters as who starred in Get Christie Love! with brutal scenes of gunplay. It’s more entertaining and pop culture friendly than leaving much to ponder over, but it offers an eye-popping nihilistic bloody crime melodrama that can be cynically viewed as a satire. Whatever…You don’t have to love it to be impressed with its riveting treatment of criminals in action.