Monday, November 05, 2012
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino from an original story by Tarantino and Roger Avary, Pulp Fiction is a multi-layered story about intersecting events around Los Angeles involving a mysterious briefcase, a gold watch, and a crime boss’s wife. The film is an exploration into the world of crime, drugs, and other situations involving various people in the span of a few days in Los Angeles. Starring John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson, Eric Stolz, Christopher Walken, Rosanna Arquette, Maria de Medeiros, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Ving Rhames, Harvey Keitel, and Bruce Willis. Pulp Fiction is a thrilling and captivating film from Quentin Tarantino.
The film is essentially a multi-layered story revolving around various people in the course of a few days in Los Angeles. The first involves two gangsters named Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) retrieving a mysterious briefcase for their boss Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) where things eventually go wrong following as they‘re forced to call on a man known as the Wolf (Harvey Keitel). Another story involves Vincent Vega taking Wallace’s wife Mia (Uma Thurman) to dinner where things go wrong when she accidentally overdoses on heroin. Then there’s the story about a gold watch that belongs to a boxer named Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) who doesn’t throw a fight under Wallace’s orders where he eventually crosses paths with the man that leads to all sorts of trouble involving some seedy individuals.
It’s all part of this unique world that Quentin Tarantino sets up where it doesn’t play into the traditional schematics of a crime film. Instead, it’s about the lives of various people who are part of a world full of drugs and violence along with those who don’t want any part of it. Tarantino takes the approach of what legendary French filmmaker says about narrative structure where the film has a beginning, a middle, and an end but doesn’t necessarily have to follow in that order. Even as the film opens with a scene involving a couple named Pumpkin (Tim Roth) and Honey Bunny (Amanda Plummer) eating a diner as they’re about to rob it as the film would later return to this couple towards its ending. Then the narrative cuts to the first half of Vincent and Jules story where they would get the mysterious briefcase and kill the young man who had it.
This would then go into the Vincent-Mia narrative that opens with a scene where Wallace tells Butch Coolidge to throw the fight and then goes directly to Vincent’s story. The narrative would then go into Butch’s story that opens with a prologue about this gold watch that belonged to his father as he would retrieve it only to encounter all sorts of trouble including Wallace himself. The narrative then goes back to Vincent and Jules’ story where it would reach its ending involving Pumpkin and Honey Bunny. It’s all part of the schematics Tarantino wants to set up to tell a story that doesn’t follow a traditional narrative but rather to help use this unconventional approach for its dramatic impact.
It’s not just the way Tarantino takes this unconventional approach to the narrative that makes the screenplay unique but the character themselves. Vincent Vega is a hitman who has just returned from Europe that has a love for heroin and having a good time though he is quite flawed about some of the things he does and the trouble he brings. Jules Winnfield is another hitman who would always have a biblical quote to say something before he kills someone where an incident would have him face some very deep questions about his own existence. Mia Wallace is a woman who loves to do cocaine as she was once an actress who starred in a failed pilot. Butch Coolidge is an aging prizefighter who loves his father’s gold watch as he has a French girlfriend named Fabienne (Maria de Medeiros). Marsellus Wallace is an intimidating crime boss with a big presence but also a man who will show a bit of mercy if necessary.
Tarantino’s direction is intoxicating for the way he presents the film with its sense of style and graphic depiction of violence. Particularly in the way he opens the film with this chat between Pumpkin and Honey Bunny at a diner where he maintains a sense of intimacy as well as stylized shots for this conversation. Tarantino would maintain this kind of intimacy in many group shot scenes while creating a world that is stylized. From the suits Jules and Vincent wears to the clothes that Mia wears at her dinner with Vincent. It’s all part of this very unique world that these characters live in where they live by their own rules and talk in their own language. Even in the places these characters go into such as the 50s/60s style restaurant that Vincent and Mia go into where waiters and waitresses dress up like icons of that time.
Another aspect of Tarantino’s direction is the way he depicts graphic violence where it is very stylized but also realistic in terms of its impact. Notably in some key scenes such as Vincent and Jules meeting with a young man or Butch’s encounter with Marsellus where they meet a couple of sick men who will do very awful things to them. Tarantino does find ways to create interesting framing devices to maintain an element of suspense in some scenes while knowing when not to show too much. There’s also the MacGuffins in both the gold watch and the mysterious brief case. While there is information known about the gold watch, there is nothing known about what’s inside the brief case as Tarantino maintains a sense of ambiguity throughout the film. Overall, Tarantino creates a truly engaging yet exciting film that explores the world of crime in Los Angeles.
Cinematographer Andrzej Sekula does brilliant work with the film‘s very colorful and vibrant cinematography from the look of the nighttime exteriors in Los Angeles to the daytime exteriors along with some very colorful shots of some of the locations such as Marsellus Wallace‘s bar and the restaurant that Vincent and Mia eat at. Editor Sally Menke does amazing work with the editing to help play out the film‘s unconventional narrative style along with some rhythmic cuts for some of the film‘s violent moments along with the rhythm to Vincent and Mia‘s dance scene. Production designer David Wasco, along with set decorator Sandy Reynolds-Wasco and art director Charles Collum, does wonderful work with the set pieces such as the home of Marsellus and Mia Wallace to the stylized look of the restaurant that Vincent and Mia go to.
Costume designer Betsy Heimann does nice work with the look of the suits Jules and Vincent wear along with the clothes that Mia Wallace wears as well as the Wolf‘s tuxedo. Sound editor Stephen Hunter Flick does terrific work with the sound to capture the atmosphere of the restaurant as well as the tense intimacy of the scene where Butch and Marsellus are inside a place run by two sick fucks. Music supervisor Karyn Rachtman does fantastic work with the film’s soundtrack that is a wide mix of soul, rock, rockabilly, country, surf music, and pop ranging from acts like Dusty Springfield, Dick Dale, Kool and the Gang, the Tornadoes, Ricky Nelson, Chuck Berry, the Centurions, Urge Overkill, Maria McKee, the Revels, the Statler Brothers, and the Lively Ones.
The casting by Ronnie Yeskel and Gary M. Zuckerbrod is incredible for the large ensemble that is created for the film as it features some notable small performances from Julia Sweeney as a junkyard owner’s daughter, Quentin Tarantino as Jules’ friend Jimmie, Frank Whaley as the man who had the briefcase named Brett, Phil LaMarr as Brett’s friend Marvin, Alexis Arquette as a man who tries to kill Jules and Vincent, Steve Buscemi as a waiter dressed up as Buddy Holly, Angela Jones as a death-obsessed cab driver, Kathy Griffin as a car crash witness, and the duo of Duane Whitaker and Peter Greene as the two sick fucks who try to torment Butch and Marsellus.
Christopher Walken is great in his small but unforgettable performance as Captain Koons who tells a young Butch about the significance of the gold watch that belongs to Butch’s father. Eric Stolz and Rosanna Arquette are excellent in their respective roles as the drug dealer Lance and his wife Jody where they would take part in one of the film’s most tense moments. Ving Rhames is wonderful as the very intimidating crime boss Marsellus Wallace while Maria de Medeiros is very good as Butch’s French girlfriend Fabienne. Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer are terrific as the diner-robbing couple Pumpkin and Honey Bunny. Harvey Keitel is superb as the professional Winston Wolf who makes sure Jules and Vincent clean up their mess in a short span of time.
Bruce Willis is marvelous as the aging prizefighter Butch Coolidge who deals with Marsellus wants him to do only to get himself into serious trouble as he tries to get back his father’s gold watch. Uma Thurman is brilliant as Marsellus’ wife Mia who has a love for cocaine and five-dollar milkshakes while proving herself to be an engaging person to hang out with as it’s definitely one of Thurman’s great roles. Samuel L. Jackson is amazing as the hitman Jules Winnfield who loves to do bible quotes before he kills as he maintains an air of intimidation while going into an existential frame of mind following a chilling moment. Finally, there’s John Travolta in an outstanding performance as the very cool Vincent Vega as a hitman who is truly a guy who lives by his own rules and has no qualms about killing anyone while doing whatever to not get himself into serious trouble.
Pulp Fiction is a magnificent film from Quentin Tarantino that features an amazing collective of actors that includes John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, and many others. It’s a film that is still as vibrant and as engaging nearly 20 years since its release. Armed with amazing visuals, a fun soundtrack, and witty dialogue, it’s truly a film that is one for the ages. In the end, Pulp Fiction is a riveting yet mesmerizing film from Quentin Tarantino.
Quentin Tarantino Films: Reservoir Dogs - Four Rooms: The Man from Hollywood - Jackie Brown - Kill Bill - Grindhouse: Death Proof - Inglourious Basterds - Django Unchained - The Hateful Eight - Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood
Related: The Auteurs #17: Quentin Tarantino - Growing Up with Quentin Tarantino
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