Plot Details: This opinion reveals no details about the movie's plot.
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I, being a teenager, have friends. (Yes, yes, long shot. Go eat a carrot or something.) And they, being teenagers, have absolutely no taste in film. That’s normal, right? Of course, once in a while they say something that knocks my socks off. My friend (who likes practically every movie that comes his way, from Street Fighter to American Pie 2) passed a comment about Elephant Man. He called it a masterpiece (Or chef-d’oeuvre, since we’re French-Canadian). I mean, he never said that, like ever. My other friend uses it for every goldurn movie he likes, be it Gone in 60 Seconds or Rocky.
But it’s this other friend I’ll make fun of here. Last week, he took a look at my movie collection and told me we should watch one of these movies. I picked Deliverance, thinking that I would bore the crap out of him with a Truffaut movie or a 30’s horror flick. We’re watching Deliverance, all is well. After about an hour or so, he looks at me and says “This movie is boring.”
This movie is BORING. Deliverance. This coming from a guy who’s favorite movie of the last few months is Save The Last Dance. I shut it off and proposed to get another one. I went in my collection and got the movie I thought he would prefer. I got Pulp Fiction. I told him it was great, he would love it. He went home instead of seeing the movie (sometimes I just don’t get him) and called me up a few days later so we could watch it.
If you’re going “screw it, he’s going off-topic again”, so be it. The fact is, this little anecdote is going to help me analyze the movie later in this review. So bear with me. We were not alone when we watched the film. There was also two people older than us. Not much older, though. Nonetheless, we started watching the film. After half an hour, the comments were starting to come out. “This movie is boring,” “There isn’t much action in this, is there?” “Man Travolta is ugly”, etc. I didn’t say much. I just said it would get better in a while. And it did.
Pulp Fiction transcends all rules and regulations of filmmaking. Okay, so I might seem like a nerdy fanboy, but it’s true. To go into Pulp Fiction you have to be willing to suspend disbelief and know that you’re not watching a normal gangster movie. The film is told out of sequence, the happenings are unrelentingly violent and profane, but the film works.
There is no way to truly describe the plot of Pulp Fiction. The stories interwine within each other, sometimes screwing up facts that happened earlier until you figure out that it isn’t actually put together in sequence. Characters get offed and come back in another section of the film. The characters are an amalgam of old noir baddies, blaxploitation heroes and various other dubious characters. John Travolta’s Vincent is the quiet but not so suave bad guy. Sam Jackson’s Jules is an uber-badass, spouting lines from the Bible and mouthing off at every given opportunity. Mia (Uma Thurman) is the femme fatale with a layer of depth. Every character is truly notable.
One of the things that disturbs me the most about Pulp Fiction is the way people label it. In my video store, you can walk up to the Action rack and find Pulp Fiction nestled between Delta Force 3 and Octopussy. Others can find it under Comedy, sharing the rack with Mel Brooks and John Landis. But none of this is right. Pulp Fiction, like all great cinema, transcends all of the petty genres and forms its own, standalone niche. The comedic elements of Pulp Fiction were lost on me the first two times I saw it. The thing is, you really need to be a weathered movie watcher to truly appreciate Pulp Fiction’s comedy. (Anyone can appreciate people shooting each other.) None of the humor is quite obvious. A lot of it is dialogue-driven, but the sheer amount of dialogue present will turn off many casual viewers. My friend was bored out of his skull, but his brother and his brother’s girlfriend were having a blast. That said, if you’re the kind of person who prefers a “good” Spy Hard over a “boring” movie like Citizen Kane, steer clear.
Much has been said about Pulp Fiction’s script. In traditional film, dialogue is there simply to advance the plot. Imagine Norman Bates striking up a conversation about politics with Marion Crane. Unthinkable. But with Pulp Fiction’s plot (or lack thereof), this kind of dialogue is useless. In the very first scene where we meet Vincent and Jules, they’re heading to make a hit. But unlike previous hitmen, they’re not planning it out. They’re talking about hamburgers. The conversation is pointless; then again how many conversations have a point? How many times has a conversation been the entire basis for what happens next in your life? (Yeah, okay, I’m sure you can name 35 examples.)
About halfway through the movie (right after the memorable dance sequence), my friend asked me when this movie took place. I paused and calmly explained to him they were in a 50’s diner. I said that because trying to explain to him the point of the film would blow his brain. Now, my friend is not an idiot; he doesn’t know jack when it comes to films, but he isn’t stupid. Yet I’m not sure he would understand that Pulp Fiction takes place in an almost alternate universe. It takes place in the seedy underworld of every noir, every gangster novel by Elmore Leonard. It takes place not in one year but in another dimension. Every car is rusty, every house is poorly kept, everyone is dressed in ugly clothes.
John Travolta, in the eighties, went the way of the Robert Altman. That is, he continued to make movies, but no one seemed to give a damn. By 1994 Travolta’s career was in the doldrums. Tarantino took a chance and cast him as the “lead” (although no character can really have the lead in Pulp Fiction). Travolta, strangely enough, is great in the role. I can’t say I like him (not after Battlefield Earth… that bastard!) but at least I know that he’s capable of acting. Samuel L. Jackson is great in this movie. I mean, I think he’s a great actor and he often saves crap movies from a savage beating (witness Sphere), but this… this is perfect. Jackson delivers every line flawlessly, without mugging shamelessly to the camera. Uma Thurman becomes sexier every time I watch this movie. It’s not that she’s inherently beautiful (not here anyway); her character isn’t all that likeable, either. Her demeanor, however… va-va-voom! (Eeew. I promise not use that expression again.) In a sense, Thurman is Veronica Lake or Rita Hayworth on coke. (Not on coke like it was pictured in the 40’s, with the wild dancing and and insane rambling and frenetic piano playing) Bruce Willis, in 1994 was not the terrific actor he is now. He was mostly a tool for action movies (as the God-awful Hudson Hawk proves) that weren’t all that good in the first place. Granted he made the first two Die Hard movies but I digress. Tarantino uses Willis to his full power here, developing a headstrong, brutish, if not completely “all there”, man. Harvey Kietel, a veteran from Tarantino’s previous Reservoir Dogs, shows up as Winston Wolf, a guy who “solves problems”. Kietel comes off as charismatic, but his character is a bit annoying. He has no depth, no motivation and comes only to solve a problem. Ving Rhames is shown mostly from the back (wether he’s being sodomized or talking to Willis) but achieves the level of talent needed for the role. This isn’t his best (that honor is reserved for his bitersweet performance in Bringing Out The Dead), but it’s certainly worth it. Christopher Walken has a hilarious cameo and Tarantino appears in a small role.
I marked the film down as Not suitable for children of any age but it goes farther than that. People who do not know how to appreciate a film, people who think Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man is “funny ‘cause he’s a retard and stuff”, people who consider Pearl Harbor to be the best movie they’ve ever seen, etc. These people might like the movie, but they won’t see it for all it’s worth, which is a shame.
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Viewing Format: VHS
Video Occasion: Fit for Friday Evening
Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age