Quentin Tarantino revolutionized American cinema in the early ‘90s when his debut feature, Reservoir Dogs, hit the festival circuit. By bringing the conventions of French gangster movies and Hong Kong action thrillers to a quintessentially American crime story with a nonlinear narrative and his unique style of dialogue, Tarantino inspired a generation of indie filmmakers.
Since the release of Reservoir Dogs almost three decades ago, Tarantino has remained one of the most popular filmmakers in Hollywood. In the eight movies he’s made in the interim (depending on how you count them), Tarantino has continued to hone the directorial style that he established with his first movie.
10 Graphic Violence
From Mr. Orange gushing blood from a gunshot wound for almost the entire runtime to Mr. Blonde cutting the ear off of a cop he’s torturing, Reservoir Dogs is filled with graphic violence. Why? “Because it’s so much fun, Jan!”
Ever since his blood-drenched debut in Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino has continually topped his own absurd levels of violence. The history-tweaking finale of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood seems like a meta nod to this.
9 Memorable Soundtrack
Tarantino introduced audiences to his penchant for memorable soundtracks in Reservoir Dogs. Throughout the movie, tracks play from a fictional radio show called K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies, including the George Baker Selection’s “Little Green Bag” and Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling.”
The most unforgettable music moment in Tarantino’s first feature is, of course, when Mr. Blonde tortures a cop to the bubbly sounds of Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle with You.”
8 Trunk Shot
When Mr. Blonde shows his kidnapped cop to Mr. White and Mr. Pink, the camera is positioned in the trunk of his car. This trunk shot has been repeated in just about every Tarantino movie since, even From Dusk Till Dawn, which he didn’t direct.
He hasn’t used many trunk shots recently, but a couple of his most recent films have been set before cars were invented, so that might be why. Interestingly, Tarantino didn’t use a trunk shot in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s Spahn Ranch set piece when Cliff Booth gets his spare tire so the hippie who slashed his tire can change it.
7 Gangsters In Black Suits
One of Tarantino’s signature costume choices is giving black suits to gangsters. This began in Reservoir Dogs, with the suits worn by the lead characters during the jewelry store heist.
Since then, every gangster in the Tarantino-verse, from Pulp Fiction’s Jules and Vincent to Kill Bill’s Crazy 88’s, has worn a black suit to commit their gangland murders.
6 Pop Culture References
Every Tarantino movie is filled with pop culture references, from all the nods to the ‘50s in Jack Rabbit Slim’s in Pulp Fiction to Rick Dalton’s fantasy of playing Steve McQueen’s role in The Great Escape in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
This all began with Reservoir Dogs, in which pop culture is used as a conversation topic between strangers. The robbers don’t know each other personally, so they talk about “Like a Virgin” and Get Christie Love! instead.
Having been heavily influenced by spaghetti westerns, Quentin Tarantino’s movies usually have a strong focus on revenge and all the related themes. In Reservoir Dogs, “Nice Guy” Eddie avenges Mr. Blonde and his dad, Mr. White avenges Mr. Orange, and Mr. Orange is ultimately revealed to have betrayed Mr. White’s trust, so Mr. White avenges himself (or fate avenges Mr. White, depending on your interpretation) in the movie’s ambiguous final moments.
Since then, Tarantino has given moviegoers the Bride’s vengeful crusade against Bill and his many cohorts, the grimly satisfying final beatdown in Death Proof, and the coffee pot fiasco in The Hateful Eight. Tarantino has also used cinematic bloodshed to right the wrongs of history: Jewish American soldiers kill Hitler in Inglorious Basterds, a freed slave massacres dozens of white slavers in Django Unchained, and the Manson Family murderers leave Sharon Tate and her friends alone and instead run afoul of a stuntman and his dog, both well-versed in exacting brutal vigilante justice, in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
4 Verbose Dialogue
One of Tarantino’s hallmarks is his idiosyncratic style of dialogue. All of his characters are verbose, speaking in long, poetic monologues laced with profanity and references to pop culture. The writer-director claims that he figured out how to write dialogue using all the tools he learned in acting class.
This dialogue style was established in Reservoir Dogs — in the opening scene, actually, as the robbers casually have breakfast in a diner and bicker about tipping — and it’s gone on to give us such gems as “Royale with Cheese,” “Do you find me sadistic?,” and “The D is silent.”
3 Undercover Characters
Characters going undercover and trying to convince the people around them that they’re someone else is a fascinating dramatic setup. Tarantino made it central to his debut movie, as Reservoir Dogs revolves around a band of thieves trying to figure out who among them is an undercover cop, but he’s continued to use the trope throughout the rest of his career.
In Inglourious Basterds, the Allies go undercover as Nazi officers to an underground bar; in Django Unchained, Django and Dr. Schultz go undercover as slavers to the Candyland plantation; in The Hateful Eight, the members of the Domergue Gang all assume new identities.
2 Long Takes & Tracking Shots
Tarantino often utilizes long takes and tracking shots. In Reservoir Dogs’ torture scene, a handheld camera follows Mr. Blonde out to his car to get gasoline (with the diegetic music fading out and back in again) before dousing the cop.
The technique has since been used in Pulp Fiction’s Jack Rabbit Slim’s sequence, the scene with Chris Tucker in Jackie Brown, and the Bride infiltrating the House of Blue Leaves in Kill Bill.
Tarantino’s most obvious hallmark is that he borrows from previous movies, mixing familiar elements to create something new. The plot of Reservoir Dogs is reminiscent of movies like The Killing, White Heat, and City on Fire (which Tarantino has actually been accused of plagiarizing), while the cinematography is similar to Jean-Pierre Melville’s crime films, particularly Le Doulos.
The dolly shot following Mr. Pink as he flees from the cops is taken straight from The French Connection, while the idea of severing an ear was taken from the original Django movie. The Stealers Wheel scene as a whole, juxtaposing sadistic torture with a whimsical tune, calls back to A Clockwork Orange’s disturbing “Singin’ in the Rain” sequence.
About The Author
Ben Sherlock (2759 Articles Published)
Ben Sherlock is a writer, comedian, and independent filmmaker. He writes lists for Screen Rant and features and reviews for Game Rant, covering Mando, Melville, Mad Max, and more. He's currently in pre-production on his first feature film, and has been for a while because filmmaking is expensive. In the meantime, he's also in pre-production on various short films. Previously, he wrote for Taste of Cinema, Comic Book Resources, and BabbleTop. You can catch him performing standup at odd pubs around the UK that will give him stage time.