Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Samuel L Jackson, Ving Rhames, Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Eric Stoltz and Bruce Willis
Plot: Vincent Vega (Travolta) finds himself looking after the wife of a dangerous gangster, while Butch (Willis) is paid to purposefully lose a boxing fight for the same gangster.
I love and hate Pulp Fiction. I love everything about the movie, the style, the music, the inspired casting choices. I hate the fact that it has opened up a trend of Tarantino-esque movies. Don’t get me wrong, a handful of homages are fairly good, but most of them try to copy the charm of Pulp Fiction, without truly understanding the dynamics that made this powerhouse gangster flick from Quentin Tarantino so fresh and superb.
Most people mistake the brilliance of Tarantino’s scripts being down to natural dialogue. I have always found this amusing, because Tarantino’s dialogue is anything but natural. No one speaks like a character in a Tarantino film does. However, Tarantino creates a universe and an atmosphere, where his dialogue appears natural. His scenes and stories are so stylised, the characters so larger than life, that we expect these wacky quotes and lengthy monologues focused on pop culture. That kind of cinematic universe takes real talent to construct and this is why Tarantino’s films are always an event. What we get from ‘homages’ are several stories, told in an out-of-order fashion, with too much focus on dialogue that never captures the spark that comes as second nature to an artistic director, like Tarantino.
Pulp Fiction’s success is mainly due to the fact that it is burnt into our memories from the first viewing. Mainly this is due to a terrific soundtrack, personally selected by Tarantino. Songs like ‘Son of Preacher Man’ and ‘You Will Be A Woman Soon’ elevate good moments to fantastic. One of the key scenes of the film, John Travolta and Uma Thurman winning a dance competition in Jack Rabbit Slim’s, has gone down in cinematic history, thanks to superb choreography and a Chuck Berry song that no other director of a 90s movie would go near. As well as the music, we have the use of the word ‘nigger’ and extreme violence imprinted into our minds, in a way that you wouldn’t be alone in rejecting the film for. Tarantino goes for the shock factor and you could argue that he becomes too indulgent with that aspect of the movie. A scene where a principal character overdoses also could be described as a beat too unsettling for viewers not expecting this kind of content from the film.
The casting is another surprising feature of this film. John Travolta’s career was dying, only truly memorable for his turn in ‘Grease’ and films of the same wavelength. However, paired with the always mesmerising Samuel L Jackson, Travolta becomes one of the greatest things about this film. His turn as the charismatic, somewhat socially inept, gangster is one of the more relatable strands of the film, despite him being a contracted killer. Tarantino also changed my mind on Uma Thurman as an actress, a concept he solidified with ‘Kill Bill’. Topping up this impressive cast list is action hero, Bruce Willis, bringing in the Die Hard fans who want to see their hero murder a homosexual rapist with a samurai sword. This film is a great example of how keen an eye Tarantino has for casting unlikely stars. Ever since, actors have been queuing for the chance to grab a role in a ‘Tarantino’.
However, the best thing about Pulp Fiction is Tarantino’s refusal to conform to the rules of the generic movie. We get a story told out of time, yet never in a pompous way that demands the audience to pay close attention. Important characters are killed off early only for the action to cut back to the day before, so we get another storyline with that protagonist. The pulp style is always fresh and never gets in the way of the story in a way that we could argue ‘Scott Pilgrim’ or ‘Sucker Punch’ does. Keeping the film going is a burning passion that Tarantino has for his material. He conveys his love he has for this universe, these characters, so fluently that it takes just a few beats of exposition for us to share his affection for them. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Pulp Fiction however is the fact that the director made this film with as little as 8.5 million, mere pennies when it comes to the blockbusters of today.
Final verdict: Stylish, memorable and original, Pulp Fiction could very well be one of the most important films of the decade.