Not officially released in the United States until 2006, this long-withheld gem from French master Jean-Pierre Melville is a highlight, regardless of what year you consider its true release. Documenting (from a fictionalized perspective) the director's experiences in the French resistance, the film is a long and somber look at a group of people under constant threat of sudden death. Beautifully shot and strongly acted, it possess a slightly clinical view of its characters, but don't mistake that for a lack of humanity. Melville keeps his distance to that when moments really need to hit home, they do. Rather than drown us in anguish or suffering, he raises the stakes subtly, culminating in several moments of heart-stopping (though never exploitative) emotional trauma. It's a sobering film to be sure, one that doesn't shy away from the unpleasantness of the war, or the resistance members' actions. It's also quite a brilliant one, and it deserves to be exalted after being kept in the dark for so long. The film's initial release may have been in the 60s, but not for one instant does it feel dated.
I was a little surprised when Reservoir Dogs didn't grab me right off the bat. I generally like or love Tarantino's work, and was taken aback when I wasn't sold immediately. Unfortunately, things didn't improve from there. Though it has all of the trademarks found in his subsequent works, Reservoir Dogs is lacking the sharp, darkly funny, absurd characterization that fills just about everything else he does. So despite all of the talent flooding the ensemble, there just wasn't enough to keep me fully engaged, which is surprising, considering how fond I am of Tarantino's work in general. The structure is fun, but at the end of the day, the characters never felt strong enough to make distinct marks.