Pulp Fiction (1994)

pulpfiction_1994_poster
  • Time: 154 min
  • Genre: Crime | Drama | Thriller
  • Director: Quentin Tarantino
  • Cast: John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Ving Rhames, Rosanna Arquette, Uma Thurman, Steve Buscemi, Christopher Walken, Harvey Keitel, Julia Sweeney, Eric Stoltz, Quentin Tarantino

Storyline:

Jules Winnfield and Vincent Vega are two hitmen who are out to retrieve a suitcase stolen from their employer, mob boss Marsellus Wallace. Wallace has also asked Vincent to take his wife Mia out a few days later when Wallace himself will be out of town. Butch Coolidge is an aging boxer who is paid by Wallace to lose his next fight. The lives of these seemingly unrelated people are woven together comprising of a series of funny, bizarre and uncalled-for incidents.

3 reviews

  • To lend myself to the cliche, Tarantino has revolutionized cinema. Some praise him, some berate him, some despise him, and quite a few lose sight of what he has brought into the mainstream. In this, his best work to date, Tarantino succeeds in telling one of the most realistic tales ever to find its way into theaters. It is this realism that makes Tarantino so impressive a director. While epics like Braveheart and Titanic concern themselves with the most noble points of human existence and morbid thrillers such as Se7en focus on the lowest depths of depravity, Pulp Fiction instead stays firmly in the middle ground of daily experience. The film has been criticized as glorifying violence and drug use. Instead I feel this movie simply portrays such facets of society, and portrays them very similarly to the “real world.” Pulp Fiction, along with Tarantino’s other films, is so captivating because the characters are so very human, more than a collection of catch phrases and a cool exterior. Tarantino offsets this stark realism with offset chronology, drawing the audience in even further by making them fit the pieces of the plot together in their minds. Granted, Tarantino was not the first to use the directorial techniques that make Pulp Fiction a fantastic story. He did not use them first, but he has used them best. He is so good at what he does that Pulp Fiction is a great movie despite his own acting. That alone is worthy of an Oscar.

  • I remember that back in the mid-90’s, when Tarantino-mania was in full swing, the motor-mouthed former video store clerk-turned-auteur was always surrounded by controversy. His two movies, Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction were portrayed as cruel, violent and sadistic by the media, while movie critics swooned over his pulpy, reference-heavy characters and innovative dialogue. Over 20 years later, Tarantino’s films seem laughably mild compared to the casual ultra-violence of most 18-rated movies regularly released today. But while Reservoir Dogs can arguably be dismissed as a marvellously scripted and meticulously acted rip-off of City on Fire (1987), Pulp Fiction seems as fresh as the day it was released.

    The black-suited duo of Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winfield (Samuel L. Jackson), and the misty-eyed gangster’s moll Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) have been reduced to movie icons, adorning the walls of students and making it easy to forget just how well written they are. Tarantino is fascinated by the humdrum of these casual killers’ lives, and their conversations about cheeseburgers, foot-massages and what constitutes a miracle sparkle with invention, intelligence and laugh-out-loud humour. It makes these cartoon characters, who seem they have been ripped straight from the pages of a book found in a dime-store book shop, seem real. Even though they have just shot two unarmed men in cold blood, you would still want to buy them a cup of coffee and pick their brains.

    Pulp Fiction, as I’m sure you already know, tells three intertwining stories out of chronological order. After successfully obtaining a briefcase belonging to their boss, hit-man Vincent Vega is given the responsibility of looking after the big man’s wife, Mia, for the night. He takes her to a retro diner where they talk pop culture and dance to Chuck Berry, and the night’s events then take an unexpected turn. Travolta makes for an astonishingly sweet killer and heroin addict, and this story in particular sizzles with sexy dialogue and real chemistry between Travolta and Thurman. The now-infamous scene of an improvised adrenaline shock still has the power to make you wince, while remaining funny and utterly absurd all at the same time.

    The second story, ‘The Gold Watch’, focuses on ageing boxer Butch (Bruce Willis), who after failing to follow thorough with his role in a thrown boxing match – organised by Vincent’s boss Marcellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) – flees to the safety of a hotel room and into the arms of his lover Fabienne (Maria de Medeiros), who he intends on whisking overseas along with his wad of stolen loot. However, upon realising that Fabienne has failed to pack the gold watch handed down to him through many generations and eventually by his father’s friend Captain Koons (Christopher Walken), he must return home to reclaim it. The events that transpire are some of the most outlandish work Tarantino has ever done, filled with gunfire, mutilation, rape, and a gimp. Such relentless brutality may have been off-putting, but Tarantino keeps you reassured that it’s okay to laugh at what you’re seeing, that it’s only a movie. It’s a textbook lesson in black comedy.

    The narrative then jumps back in time to Vincent and Jules in the aftermath of the hit seen at the start of the movie. After an extremely gory accident, they are forced off the road and seek the hospitality of Jimmie (played by Tarantino himself). They hire professional fixer Winston Wolf (Harvey Keitel), who races against the clock to clean up the mess before Jimmie’s wife arrives home from a night shift. The film climaxes at the diner shown in the opening scene, as Vincent and Jules’s quiet breakfast is interrupted by a husband and wife stick-up team (Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer). The third segment is the funniest and features the most memorable dialogue, as Winston tries to motivate an objectionable Vincent (“pretty please, with a cherry on top, clean the fucking car,”), and Jules educates his new foe’s following the life-altering miracle he believes he has just witnessed.

    Featuring highly on practically every ‘best of’ list from 1994 to the present, Pulp Fiction needs no introduction and I doubt it ever will. Though I have enjoyed all of Tarantino’s movies with the exception of 2007’s tedious Death Proof (though it fares better when viewed in its Grindhouse entirety), I don’t rate him as a truly great film-maker, as I don’t feel he has ever managed to shake his compulsion to homage. But Pulp Fiction is undoubtedly a masterpiece, like nothing else made before or since (though many attempts have been made in vain). A thrilling exercise in style and substance, beneficial to cinema as a whole and responsible for re-igniting a few careers on the way. I cannot see Tarantino ever topping his achievements here, but then again his movies never fail to surprise me.

    Rating: 5/5

  • 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.

    GRADE: A+ (9.5/10 or 5 stars)

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