Pulp Fiction

27 Jun

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From director Quentin Tarantino, Pulp Fiction brings together four separate stories filled with violence and redemption. The lives of two hit men, their gangster boss and his wife, a boxer and a loved up couple into sticking up liquor stores and restaurants intertwine to tell a tale where it often feels like not much is happening, but ‘not much’ has rarely been so tense or engaging.

As a quick perusal of my About page will tell you, I freely admit that I haven’t always been into films in the way I am now. Now I watch as many as I can, fitting them in to whatever free space I have and spending a lot of my leisure time at the cinema. And, as you know by virtue of the fact that you’re reading this, I decided to set up a blog where I could write about films. When I think about it, I can really trace my love of films back to Reservoir Dogs. When I first watched that a few years ago I really enjoyed it (obviously) and it encouraged me to watch a film my friend had been trying to make me watch for a while. That film was Pulp Fiction, and I can now see how the viewing of this film has been extremely influential in changing the way I see cinema, really opening my eyes to just what a film could be. On a day when I’d been to the cinema to see one of the worst films I’d ever seen, I decided to put this on to redeem myself in the eyes of the film gods.

For a starter, this is the film that I would probably credit as having my favourite opening to any film I’ve ever seen. A couple known only at this point as Pumpkin (Tim Roth) and Honey Bunny (Amanda Plummer) are sat in a diner discussing the merits of robbing a bank or a liquor store. It transpires that they have recently robbed a store themselves and Pumpkin is thinking of ways to enact lucrative robberies whilst reducing the potential for anything going wrong. When he convinces Honey Bunny they should rob the diner they are in, they jump to their feet, pull out their guns and announce their criminal intent. Then the credits start to roll and Dick Dale’s iconic version of Misirlou starts to play. That opening scene is Pulp Fiction in a microcosm; outstanding, wonderful dialogue delivered perfectly, plenty of swearing, perfectly chosen music and a small hint at the violence to come. I don’t think I’ve ever been so transfixed by the start of a movie.

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The great thing about Pulp Fiction is that once it’s got you, it doesn’t let you go. The brilliance is relentless. The dialogue throughout is bafflingly good, and so much of it has become part of popular culture.  Hitman Jules Winfield (Samuel L Jackson) is afforded so many brilliant lines it’s sickening. From his banal discussion with his (literal) partner-in-crime Vincent Vega (John Travolta) about the different names for McDonald’s meals in Europe and America, to a mesmerising scene in the apartment of an unfortunate young man who the hitmen have been sent to deal with, his dialogue is perhaps the stand out in a film carefully littered with genius scripting. Tarantino even re-wrote a bible verse for Jules to quote before carrying out his hits, and Jackson orates it perfectly.

There is no weak link in the casting, everybody in the film plays their role perfectly. Of the main protagonists, Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer are afforded the least screen time, yet both are entertaining. Roth in particular recites his lines brilliantly and is put to great use by Tarantino. I don’t want to ramble on about how and why each cast member is brilliant because I’d be here all day. However, I must mention that Travolta is fantastic, and I could not write this review without giving a mention to an excellent Uma Thurman performance. She plays Mia Wallace, wife to a mobster.

It is perhaps Thurman and her character that best underline the essence of the whole film. I vividly remember the intrigue I felt the first time I saw Mia Wallace. She’s a quirky character who, more than any other person in the film seems to do a hell of a lot while actually doing very little. Try taking your eyes off the screen when she is sat in a diner with Vincent Vega discussing the merits of a five-dollar milkshake. Try not to be entranced by the pair of them doing “The Twist” alone on stage. It’s impossible. For long periods of her screen time, she seems to be going nowhere. This is just great character driven film-making. Where it’s going almost doesn’t matter, just watching everything develop is as engaging as entertainment gets. Thurman portrays a perfect femme fatale; seductive, endearing but yet a character whom you can never feel quite comfortable with.

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I’ve written before about the quality of Tarantino’s story craft, and it has perhaps never been more evident than it is here. With Pulp Fiction he put together a non-linear story that works in so many ways. Each of the characters is brilliantly written, and the unconventional nature of the story telling serves them brilliantly. The way their paths cross makes for wonderfully entertaining viewing, and it leaves me in awe every time I watch it. It isn’t until the end of the film that you can really piece together what order everything should go in, which is great fun to do by the way.

There are so many facets of Tarantino’s direction that make this film a true masterpiece. The long, tracking shots that feature several times, the banal conversation, the seemingly pointless plot devices and his willingness, in fact, eagerness to throw the viewer into uncomfortable situations. There is a particularly famous, and extremely grim scene that takes place in a basement. I’ll say no more, but watch out for it, it holds a morbid fascination and somehow feels right. When I say right, I mean it somehow fits the story. If it often feels like the film is going nowhere, when it does progress it takes you to places you could never have foreseen. At all points in the movie, you are in the hands of the director. There’s no point ever trying to second-guess the next move, because you never can. Just sit back and let it take you where it wants to.

Of course, there’s also the music. Tarantino’s knack for creating film-enhancing soundtracks is legendary. From the aforementioned version of Misirlou that plays over the credits, to surf pop, and rock and roll, there is not a single song that feels out of place. Every song is judged perfectly, and the decision to drop these in and not use a traditional score pays off brilliantly. This was the first film where we really saw that from Tarantino and it has become a key trait of his.

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I’d say there are four Tarantino films that warrant a perfect score, and Pulp Fiction is most definitely one of them. An entirely immersive experience, I don’t know that my love of film would be the same as it is if I hadn’t seen this movie when I did. It’s a grueling task to rank Tarantino’s work in order of preference, especially as he is my favourite film director. However, if I can’t necessarily say that Pulp Fiction is my very favourite, I certainly accept it’s place as his masterpiece. This is the most…well…the most Tarantino that Quentin Tarantino has ever been. Nobody writes dialogue like he does and this is one of the most original, inventive films I’ve ever seen. With dark humour and pop-culture references thrown in, this is a step up from Tarantino’s brilliant debut Reservoir Dogs, and a real hint at what he would be able to produce with the rest of his career. There is no area of the film to criticise; it’s just awe-inspiring cinema.

10/10

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