Director: Quentin Tarantino
Verdict: Nearly a masterpiece
From the first scene to the opening credits the the closing shot, Pulp Fiction lays it’s rich platter out in front of you. The performances are wonderful and self-efacing, the cinematography is gorgeous and shows you can compose wonderful images without the need for colour correction, the soundtrack is one of the classics. Pulp Fiction is one to remember, and the best Tarantino film by a country mile.
Pulp Fiction famously follows three disparate but inter weaving narratives, not to tie them all up at the bow at the end but there in inevitably a sense of that, but to just see this grand unified story unfold in front of you. It has a sense of a Swiss watch. Each story, and actually each of the three parts of the main story, is a gangster film cliche elevated by Tarantino’s writing and directing, and pulpy plot twists. A gangster is asked to take his boss’s wife out to dinner whilst he’s away, two gangsters are sent to deal with a skeezy business associate, (leading to one particularly memorable and memetic scene), a boxer is paid off to throw a fight, a Bonnie and Clyde style couple hold up a restaurant.
The genius of the film lies in it’s subversive nature. The film is listed amongst the classics of post-modern cinema, a movement defined by cynicism towards traditional storytelling in films like Taxi Driver, Trainspotting, or Mean Girls. Pulp Fiction is no different, taking every opportunity to undercut it’s protagonists’ attempts to show off masculine bravado. The only one I can really tell you spoiler free is they complain they should have shotguns instead of handguns for this kind of deal, one then proceeds to question the other one’s sexuality over foot massages. The post modern genius also lies in the way in which is subverts the stereotypes it lays out, much more obviously and successfully than some other films I’ve defended with postmodernism on this blog like Escape from New York. It lays out a premise you’ve heard before then blows it completely out of proportion in ways that is both shocking and funny.
The film won the oscar for best original screenplay beating out it’s best-picture successor Forrest Gump. The oscar was deserved because not only is the screenplay incredibly intelligent in it’s subversion, but also in the wit of the characters. It may not be how people normally talk, chock-a-block with witty one liners and kitch pop culture references, but like the aforementioned Swiss watch there’s a certain joy to seeing it run so perfectly and smoothly in the way Tarantino has now made his trademark along with the exploitation subversion and homage in films like Death Proof, Inglourious Basterds, and Django Unchained.
Bruce Willis, (The Sixth Sense, Die Hard, The Fifth Element) has sculpted his hard man image in films like Die Hard and Armageddon, but he’s also become wonderfully adept at playing against that or playing it for laughs in films like Hudson Hawk, Twelve Monkeys, or Moonrise Kingdom. He does it here, exuding his tough guy image but also using his knack for comedic body language and timing to play against his image wonderfully and this is one of his best performances in a strangely minor role for the usual front man. Although that’s really the case with everyone, although John Travolta received an Oscar nod in the Best Leading Actor category no one is really the leading actor in this ensemble cast where everyone does their bit perfectly. No one more so epitomises this than Christopher Walken, (The Deer Hunter, Seven Psychopaths), in a walk on role that they did on the first day of shooting that starts off serious but by the end will have them rolling in the isles.
Pulp Fiction is a brash, in your face, action packed noir comedy that does Tarantino’s usual thing of taking b-movie tropes and elevating them with incredibly witty writing, deft direction with an eye for how to do set pieces better than anyone else working, and a talent for eliciting career best performances. One criticism – it’s much too long, it’s 2 hours and 45 minutes and all the stuff you can loose is in the flab and excess of the scene in Jack Rabbit Slim’s and great as some of the dialogue in that scene is, the very idea of that restaurant in an indulgence on Tarantino’s part, and the whole way the scene is put together is an indulgence of style and you need Roger Corman in there with a chainsaw cutting it down.