Pulp Fiction (1994)
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, Ving Rhames, Christopher Walken
Plot: The lives of two mob hit men, a boxer, a gangster's wife, and a pair of diner bandits intertwine in four tales of violence and redemption.
Genre: Crime / Drama
Awards: Won Palme d'Or (Cannes). Won 1 Oscar - Best Original Screenplay. Nom. for 6 Oscar - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Leading Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Film Editing.
Rating: R21 for strong graphic violence and drug use, pervasive strong language and some sexuality.
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
What else is there to say about Pulp Fiction that has not been said? I am tempted to stop writing here but a one-liner review is never going to do justice to Quentin Tarantino’s cinematic masterpiece. So, if you will, let me ramble.
After the breakthrough at Sundance that was Reservoir Dogs (1992), one would be hard-pressed to find a filmmaking talent as precocious as Tarantino at that time. Here was a man who, before he started making films, worked in a video store. Such was his fascination for movies that he began to write stories while at work, obviously influenced by the culture he was immersed in.
What happened after that was the stuff of legend. His “stories” became Reservoir Dogs, and two years later, he made the Palme d’Or winning Pulp Fiction at age 31. To my knowledge, the only American filmmaker I could think of who won the coveted Cannes award at a younger age was Steven Soderbergh for Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989) at 26.
The fear of making an explosive debut like Reservoir Dogs is that it is tricky to score again. With Pulp Fiction, Tarantino not only scores but has created the perfect goal for himself. Easily one of the top ten films of the nineties, Pulp Fiction is a lengthy film that weaves four stories together in a non-linear narrative structure that continues to impress with each viewing.
The four stories are as follows: One, Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) are two mob hitmen who work for Marcellus Wallace (Ving Rhames), a ruthless gangster boss, and are assigned to retrieve an important suitcase. Two, Vincent is tasked by Marcellus to take his wife Mia (Uma Thurman) out for the night leading to an unexpected circumstance. Three, Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis), a boxer, betrays Marcellus by not losing his match, and runs away with his betting money instead. Four, two small-time robbers are dining in a restaurant when they decide to spontaneously rob its patrons.
One way or the other, the four tales are linked to each other. Expertly crafted by Tarantino (who won an Oscar for original screenplay together with co-writer Roger Avary), Pulp Fiction pushes the envelope for cinema writing, influencing a new generation of filmmakers such as Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Amores Perros, 2000; 21 Grams, 2003). While it takes some time to understand what Tarantino is trying to do, there is never a moment of confusion in his storytelling.
The performances in the film are outstanding, and are made even more memorable by the brilliant interchange of dialogue among the characters. The signature Tarantino verbal banter is laced with witty remarks and nonsensical debate over irrelevant issues from foot massages to quarter-pounder burgers. Tarantino picks at the itsy-bitsy of American popular culture and brings his stylish brand of filmmaking to the forefront of that very culture he is trying to redefine.
Pulp Fiction’s lasting legacy lies not only in its imitable screenplay (there are so many quotable lines), but how it revitalizes a tired genre – the gangster crime-thriller – to suit contemporary tastes. As much as the film is about violence, drugs and sexual fetishes in suburban America, it is also a powerful tale of redemption, most notably encapsulated by a thought-provoking monologue by Jules in the final act, which in itself, is a stunning closure to its prologue.