There are many differing schools of thought regarding Quentin Tarantino and his so-called “style”. There are those who believe that the director who began his career as a humble video store clerk with a voracious appetite for movies of every conceivable style is talented and worth imitating. While Tarantino has made some movies worth discussing for their positive qualities (Reservoir Dogs is, by far, his best effort), this group of movies is rather small, especially considering that he has only directed five movies. There is another school of thought who regards his works as inane, self-indulgent, and bloated. Pulp Fiction, written and directed by Tarantino, and released in 1994, is his most divisive movie simply by virtue of being his most well-known. Upon its release, it was hailed as a warning shot to a complacent Hollywood- the maverick behind the indie hit Reservoir Dogs apparently had something else up his sleeve.
Pulp Fiction is ostensibly a crime story featuring the interconnecting lives of several characters. However, upon repeat viewings, the viewer begins to wonder exactly what that something is. Personally, I found this movie ran too long in spots, likely because Tarantino is so ridiculously in love with the sound of his own voice as spoken by different actors that he is afraid to cut one speech or even a single line. Dialogue, though it doesn’t necessarily need to serve the story to justify its inclusion, should not be so dense as to drive the viewer out of the experience. When John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson, on the way to retrieving a briefcase for their employer, are talking about European hamburgers and foot massages, the scene plays like a witty outtake- as though the actors so understood the style of the movie that they were in that they felt comfortable riffing with the material. Not so- the rest of the movie is filled with conversations of a similar type, including (but not limited to) body piercing, blueberry pancakes, hamburgers (again), and coffee (this one performed by Quentin Tarantino himself, as though he couldn’t wait to get a shot at delivering his own lines).
The strangest thing is, while the characters are “in character”, as Samuel L. Jackson says in an opening scene, the movie is quite enjoyable. When the characters are placed into real confrontations, the movie takes on an entirely different persona and becomes at least a decent crime movie. Ultimately, however, these scenes are few and far between and, unfortunately, the movie clocks in at 154 minutes. There’s really only a decent short film in all of this.
The movie also lacks what I would call a plot. The movie is described as three stories about one story, though that one story (ending, chronologically, with Bruce Willis and his irritating Euro girlfriend riding off into the sunset) doesn’t connect the characters enough to be truly about one thing.
Ultimately the movie is a prime example of what happens when a VCR and a wide selection of movies replace film school. The movie lacks a coherent center and seems more like something that was made for the sake of just committing something to film and resurrecting the flagging career of John Travolta. The movie is too large in scope to sustain itself, and, in the end, implodes because there is really no conviction behind the presentation- too concerned with being a hipster-cool riff on a crime story, rife with pop in-jokes and 70’s music (perhaps the best part of the movie is the soundtrack), somebody must have neglected to mention that the movie went nowhere and lacked the momentum to even get there.
While all of these qualities combine to form a truly deplorable viewing experience, I do have to mention Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson as two performers in this movie who, I felt, got away clean. Bruce Willis probably gets away with it because he’s alone for the majority of his segment and, therefore, doesn’t have anybody with whom to trade despicably derisible dialogue. Samuel L. Jackson gets a mention because of the scene at the very end of the movie in which he confronts Tim Roth’s character and makes him realize that there are far more fearsome powers at work in the world than robbing a diner. In fact, the scenes coming directly at the beginning and the end of the movie are the two best, and everything else is filler.
As you no doubt have guessed, I fall squarely in the latter of the two groups I mentioned at the beginning of this review. Pulp Fiction is inane, self-indulgent, and bloated.