(director/writer: Quentin Tarantino; screenwriters: based on stories by Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary; cinematographer: Andrzej Sekula; editor: Sally Menke; music: Karyn Rachtman; cast: John Travolta (Vincent Vega), Samuel L. Jackson (Jules Winnfield), Uma Thurman (Mia Wallace), Harvey Keitel (Winston Wolf), Tim Roth (Pumkin), Amanda Plummer (Honey Bunny), Maria de Medeiros (Fabienne), Ving Rhames (Marsellus Wallace), Eric Stoltz (Lance), Rosanna Arquette (Jody), Christopher Walken (Captain Koons), Bruce Willis (Butch Coolidge), Quentin Tarantino (Jimmie), Frank Whaley (Brett), Phil LaMarr (Marvin), Paul Calderon (Paul), Angela Jones (Esmeralda), Peter Greene (Zed), Stephen Hibbert (The Gimp); Runtime: 154; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Lawrence Bender; Miramax Films; 1994)
“…Tarantino has created a wonderfully unapologetic spectacle of characters emerging from the dark side to try and wrestle with the meaning of life.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Pulp Fiction won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Director/writer Quentin Tarantino (“Reservoir Dogs“) brings magic to the screen with his second feature film set in LA — this rambling talky film noir builds on three chronologically scrambled interrelated stories told around a prologue and epilogue. Violence and comedy are cleverly parceled out in equal proportions, as the morality of the film’s main force, the Samuel L. Jackson hit man character in a world gone bonkers, is marvelously given a biblical spin when he finds religion and gives up his craft because he believes a miracle occurred that spared his life. Though the film is more entertaining than anything else, as it’s played as a smart-alecky pic filled with themes freely borrowed from other films and staged dialogue that is smart enough to make a farce out of its over-the-top mayhem, its abusive racial cracks, its druggy scenarios, and its sado-masochistic anal penetration scene.
It’s the filmmaker being a child and having a go at the cookie jar without receiving his parents’ permission, and he’s enjoying every minute of taking such liberties. The fast-paced sequences, the sharp dialogue, the high-level of energy that the sterling ensemble cast bring to the story, all make it a happy mixture of funk and snappy literacy. The film bristles with a bad attitude, making it an original film experience that conveys more weight than it actually has going for it. It has the power in its boldness to be an hypnotic and popular film that surprisingly emerges as one of the more pleasing ones in the 1990s.
The film sparkles because the dialogue is so whacky. In the opening scene a criminal couple who go by the nicknames Honey Bunny (Amanda Plummer) and Pumpkin (Tim Roth), discuss elevating their criminal stature by going from liquor store hold-ups to restaurant heists. The next sequence suddenly comes up as the opening scene ends without being resolved and will not reappear until the conclusion, as I was completely pulled into the film the moment the two hitmen, Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent Vega (John Travolta), the film’s principle stars, hit the screen. They are animatedly conversing in their car about Vincent’s extended three year stay in Amsterdam and that McDonald’s Quarter Pounders are called “Royale with cheese” in Paris because they’re on the metric system. These two shine like no other movie goons do that I can recall off the top of my head, as they talk this wonderful rubbish on their way to teach a bunch of young amateur drug dealers a lesson they won’t forget for messing around with their imperious boss Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames). Jules is a loquacious and articulate black man dressed in Jheri Kurled hair, which gives him a comical look that contrasts with the mean streak he has when he gets down to business. While Vincent is the curious and more laconic type, who seeks respect and knows his place with the ruthless mobster who is his boss.
The film’s most unforgettable scene is in a 1950s theme restaurant. It’s called Jack Rabbit Slim’s restaurant, where the waitresses are dressed as celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe and their waiter is Buddy Holly. Vincent is asked by the vicious Marsellus to escort his irresponsible wife Mia (Uma Thurman) there for a fun evening out, where they are served $5 milkshakes and Douglas Sirk steaks while sitting in a Chrysler whose inside is fitted with a table. Vince is nervous because his partner told him that rumor has it that the extremely jealous Marsellus threw a man out of a fourth story window just because he gave his wife a foot massage. The evening almost ends in disaster when Mia O.D.’s on drugs and Vince fearing for his life rushes her to his hysterical hippie drug dealer Lance (Stoltz ) for an adrenaline injection which revives her.
Bruce Willis, as Butch, breathes more fire into the film as a hardluck boxer with multiple personalities, who is set to take a dive for Marsellus’s sake. But Butch double-crosses him and kills the other boxer in the ring and plans to run away to a South Pacific island with his European girlfriend (Medeiros) from the money he made betting on himself. But he has to leave his safe hiding place to retrieve a heirloom gold watch his girlfriend forgot to pack that has been passed down to the males in the family for generations, and means so much to him because of its history. His father was a PoW during the Vietnam War, but managed to save the watch by stuffing it up his ass for five years and when he died in the camp his fellow PoW, Captain Koons (Walken), kept it up his ass for two years until he came home and gave it to Butch. Therefore it makes sense for Butch to go back to his apartment to retrieve the watch, even though he knows Marsellus might have his men there looking for him.
Butch is soon plunged into the film’s most strained nightmarish episode, as he crashes into Marsellus and the two end up as sexual captives to two sadistically bent hillbillies, Zed and The Gimp (Greene and Hibbert), who dress up in leather as they plan to rape both men. On the conclusion of that sequence, the story jumps back to what happened when the hitmen started executing three of the Yuppie drug dealers and it shows them taking one of them (LaMarr) for a ride in the country when Vincent accidentally shoots him when the car hits a bump on the road causing the gun to misfire. As a result, there’s blood all over the car which forces them as a precaution from the police to go off the road to cleanup the mess. But they can’t do it without the help of a problem-solver, Mr. Wolf (Keitel), who blazes into the pic with a high-energy black comedy performance that settles the unglued hitmen down and by his professional manner he also calms down Jimmy (Tarantino) from worrying about what will happen if his wife comes home from work and finds these gangsters with their headless victim and blood all over the car that is parked in their garage.
The film ends in the diner where it began as Amanda and Tim are in the middle of the robbery, and the now reformed criminal Jules and the unrepentant Vince are facing off with them. Jules pulls his gun on Tim and chillingly tells him, “You’re the weak, and I’m the tyranny of evil men, but I’m trying real hard to be the shepherd.” That’s about as close as this immensely entertaining flick comes to making some sense in its storytelling. But Pulp Fiction doesn’t have to deliver any messages, as Tarantino has created a wonderfully unapologetic spectacle of characters emerging from the dark side to try and wrestle with the meaning of life.
REVIEWED ON 10/20/2002 GRADE: A