Reservoir Dogs is a great film: it plays with time, chops up narrative and presents episodes in non-chronological order, and oozes cool. The first scene after the opening credits slam-dunks the viewer immediately into a deliberately confusing moment: we are unaware of the events leading up to the blood-soaked situation we’re in, or who Tim Roth’s character really is.
But David Lean’s Brief Encounter did the same thing nearly fifty years earlier; it also opens with a scene about which the viewer knows nothing: it moves backwards to tell the story leading up to it, and then presents the same scene again towards the end.
The second time the scene appears, it now occupies its logical place in the narrative: and its impact is enhanced – pauses are significant, silences are deafening, you know what is not being said as much as what is. Informed by the sequence of events leading up to it, your understanding of the dynamics between the two characters is now completely different.
Reservoir Dogs is an influential film: it established Tarantino’s reputation and made black suits and skinny ties cool again. But David Lean got there first.