Director: Quentin Tarantino
Q: What do
two hitmen, a mob boss and his cocaine-fuled wife, a glowing
briefcase, a down-on-his-luck boxer, S&M freaks, dead body
cleanup, and a wristwatch have in common?
A: Quentin Tarantino's sophomore project, Pulp Fiction. After scoring a cult hit in 1992 with Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction would go on to win the coveted "Palme d'Or" award at the Cannes Film Festival, get a bunch of Oscar nominations (including a nomination for Best Picture), and be one of the most celebrated films of the decade. It's one of the most important and influential movies of the 1990s, but is its reputation more hot air than anything?
The film's plot is actually three interweaving stories that follow a related cast of characters in Los Angeles over the course of a few days. The first story, titled "Vincent Vega & Marsellus Wallace's Wife," begins with Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson), a pair of hitmen discussing Vincent's recent visit to Amsterdam while heading to an apartment to acquire a briefcase for their boss, Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames). After getting the briefcase and dispatching the guys in the apartment, the story proper begins. It centers around Vincent, who has been asked to show Marsellus's wife Mia (Uma Thurman) a good time while he heads out of town on business. Vincent is understandably nervous, as Jules had told him a story about Marsellus throwing a man from a four-story balcony for merely massaging Mia's feet. Throw in a dance competition at a '50s nostalgia café, Mia mistaking Vincent's stash of heroin for cocaine, and Vincent arguing with his drug dealer (Eric Stoltz) over how to save someone in the middle of a drug overdose, and you've got story one.
The second story, "The Gold Watch," centers around Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis), a washed-up boxer that's been ordered to throw a fight by Marsellus. However, Butch decides that he's going to win instead. And win he does, to the point that his opponent actually dies in the center of the ring. Butch, fearing the consequences of both killing his opponent and going against Marsellus's wishes, flees the arena and escapes to a hotel with his airhead French girlfriend Fabienne (Marie de Medeiros). The next morning, Butch awakens to discover that Fabienne left his prized gold watch, his only memento of his late father, at their apartment. He sneaks back to the apartment, retrieves the watch after a quick shootout with one of Marsellus's goons, then heads back to the hotel. Along the way, he ends up coming face-to-face with Marsellus, and the two brawl into a pawn shop. They couldn't have picked a worse place to fight, because it's at the pawn shop where they encounter two redneck rapists and an S&M freak known only as "The Gimp."
Story three, "The Bonnie Situation," follows, showing what happened between Jules and Vincent retrieving the briefcase and Vincent's ordeal with Mia. They kill the guys in the apartment, pick up the briefcase and Marvin (Phil LaMarr), their informant, then go to meet Marsellus. Unfortunately for Vincent and Jules and very unfortunately for Marvin, Vincent's gun goes off and splatters Marvin's head all over the rear windshield. Vincent and Jules panic, seeking help from Jimmie Demmick (Quentin Tarantino), a former employee of Marsellus that has gotten out of the business. Jimmie isn't too thrilled with the idea of Jules and Vincent showing up at his house with a dead body, so he pressures them to leave before his wife Bonnie gets home. A few phone calls are made, and Winston Wolf (Harvey Keitel) arrives at Jimmie's front door to handle the problem. He instructs Jules and Vincent to clean up the inside of the car, makes a few phone calls, and gets a junkyard to demolish the car (with Marvin in the trunk for good measure) for them. After getting things settled, the two hitmen head to a nearby café for breakfast, where we see an extension of the movie's first scene. Two thieves, calling themselves "Pumpkin" (Tom Roth) and "Honey Bunny" (Amanda Plummer), hold up the café, only to realize they've gotten in way over their heads.
Pulp Fiction is one of my favorite movies, and for good reason. While almost all of the characters are portrayed as unlikable, it's hard not to think some of them are cool. The cast's portrayal of their characters is stellar, and their director is at the top of his game here. John Travolta is phenomenal here as Vincent, the hitman who can get himself into situations that he can't figure out how to get out of on his own. He's sort of like the jewel thieves from Reservoir Dogs. He talks tough, but loses his cool when bad stuff goes down. Samuel L. Jackson is also wonderful as Vincent's partner-in-crime Jules, the scripture-quoting hitman that can barks orders like the drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket, yet can calmly and quietly reflect over situations as well. To be totally honest, every actor does his or her job perfectly, and I couldn't ask for better. I actually wasn't too big on the character of Fabienne, but that's not the fault of Marie de Medeiros. I just didn't think Fabienne was all that great of a character.
Also perfect was the script, written by Tarantino and Roger Avery. A lot of the movie's charm is how some of the dialogue and predicaments the characters find themselves in are so outrageous. The non-linear construction of the movie (which has become something of a trademark for Tarantino) is such that you can see the movie a dozen times, and still be surprised by what happens next. The stories all overlap and intersect, but a chronological edit of the movie would destroy the whole flow and feel of the movie. It would make even less sense if viewed that way. The title "Pulp Fiction" is very apropos, as it's as if the old trashy crime novels of days gone by came to life and Quentin Tarantino made a movie about it.
As with all of QT's other movies, the soundtrack plays a big factor. Here, the movie is scored with lots of surf music and other old songs. Many of the songs have become connected with the movie in such a way that hearing a particular song from the soundtrack can remind faithful viewers of the scene in which it was featured. In a way, it's like how the Stealer's Wheel song "Stuck In The Middle With You" has become forever attached to the torture scene from Reservoir Dogs. This time, it's numerous songs that have become attached to scenes from the movie.
Many consider Pulp Fiction to be one of the best movies ever made, and I won't disagree. Tarantino's knack for creatively telling crazy, off-beat stories is fully revealed here, and he's seemingly developing the same storytelling reputation that legendary director Orson Welles had at one time. In fact, one could call Pulp Fiction Tarantino's Citizen Kane. The creativity in his movies are light-years beyond other movies, and is at a level most writer/directors never reach throughout their entire careers.
Final Rating: *****