The exploration of the Tarantino oeuvre ended last night as me and the boy watched Tarantino’s opus (I will not subject my son to Death Proof from Grindhouse or Tarantino’s contribution to Four Rooms unless he’s really bad). Pulp Fiction is audacious in its break with continuity and vibrant in dialogue. The film is essentially a series of riffs (and nobody riffs better than Samuel Jackson and Christopher Walken) or two person sketches. A stunning follow-up to Reservoir Dogs, the movie is a pop culture totem, demonstrating Tarantino’s love for kitsch as well as his sharp ear for a modern, urban, tough guy patter, Spillane-meets-Quisp.
Almost all of the performances are brilliant. I’ve criticized Tarantino’s reclamation projects, but his insistence on JohnTravolta (over Daniel Day Lewis) was exactly right. In the words of Tarantino’s agent, at the time, “John Travolta was at that time as cold as they get. He was less than zero.” But Tarantino would not budge, and as hit man/enforcer Vincent Vega, Travolta is just the right amount of cool and introspection to Jackson’s ferocity. When the boss’s wife (Uma Thurman) mistakes his heroin for coke and overdoses, Travolta snaps out of his own drug-induced laze and, in one of many comic but harrowing scenes, becomes electric. The performance is artful, it resulted in an Academy Award nomination, and it resurrected his career.
If there is a criticism, it is of one vignette, after Jackson and Travolta accidentally shoot a man’s head off in their car. They need to get off the street, and end up at the home of one . . . Quentin Tarantino. Even the introduction of “The Wolf” (Harvey Keitel), a Mr. Fix-It who arrives to assist the stranded duo, cannot save this halting sequence or Tarantino’s amateurish acting. Rank has its privileges, but this particular hubris was detrimental.
But that’s a minor bump in the road in this highly engaging and original flick. Related — The Pulp Fiction Oral History: Uma Thurman, Quentin Tarantino, and John Travolta Retrace the Movie’s Making.