Pulp Fiction (1994)

What's in the briefcase?

Pulp Fiction tells four stories of violence and redemption, detailing the intertwining lives of two mob hit men (John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson), a boxer (Bruce Willis), a gangster's wife (Uma Thurman), and a pair of diner bandits (Tim Roth & Amanda Plummer).

WARNING: Review contains spoilers!!

Wow, where to begin?

The dialogue is pretty much everything you'd expect from a Quentin Tarantino film. It's quotable, very engaging, often crude, entertaining and humorous. If you didn't believe in Tarantino's gift for dialogue before, this is the film that will convince you. He manages to make very interesting conversations about topics that, if handled by almost anyone else, would be mundane, as exemplified by the way he keeps the audience entertained whilst Julius and Vincent talk about burgers.

I cannot name one character who isn't the slightest bit interesting, or a single bad performance in this film, with Uma Thurman and Samuel L. Jackson being the two who stood out the most for me.
Thurman plays Mia with great charisma, while Jackson plays Julius, getting most of the film's best lines and solidifying Jackson's reputation as an all around bad-ass, with both characters entertaining all the way. The chemistry between the characters is very evident, most notably between John Travolta and anyone he shares a scene with, be it Uma Thurman, Eric Stoltz or Samuel L Jackson.

The film is effectively told through non-linear storytelling, which may seem annoying to some, but to be honest, I don't think I could envision this film told in any other way. The way things are set up during one point of the film only to return later on works much more effectively than most of the films I've seen, and the non-linear storytelling manages to help with it's effectiveness. Tarantino chose to not have a score accompany the film, instead opting for an assortment of music to be used, which is a great decision on his part as the chosen songs fits much better with the scenes than a score could've done.

What Tarantino does brilliantly about this film is how he takes the different stories with basic starting points that you'd see in many a number of crime movies, and then takes them in a much different direction from what you'd expect to see in a film using that basic plot. The first story, which is Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace's Wife, begins with the typical story of a man being hired to take his bosses wife out, show her a good time, but instead of taking the usual route where you'd expect it to focus upon the growing attraction between the hired man and the bosses wife, it instead focuses upon Mia Wallace overdosing and how Vincent Vega reacts to the actual situation, leading into the perfectly tense, masterfully directed scene involving the hypodermic needle.

Nick Fury and Terl, the early years

The next story, which is The Golden Watch, begins with a prelude where Captain Koons (Christopher Walken) arrives to give a watch to young Butch, which belonged to Koon's fellow soldier and Butch's father, because nothing's a better gift for a child than a watch which has spent 7 years up the asses of two men. Walken appears for one scene only, but manages to leave an impact upon Butch's story, giving the aforementioned golden watch to Willis' character which is the catalyst which sets off Butch to return for his watch, culminating into his memorable storyline.

The basic story for The Golden Watch is the typical "boxer doesn't throw the fight for his powerful boss" storyline, forcing Butch (Bruce Willis) to leave with his girlfriend in order to go on the run. But when Butch finds out his girlfriend didn't pack his family watch, he has to go back to his place and get it. One of the best things about this story was how Marsellus (Ving Rhames) was willing to search to the ends of the Earth for Butch, but ends up coming across him not after staking out his place or appearing at the train station, but instead sighting him whilst he's casually crossing the road.

But what I really love about this story was how far it veered into unpredictability, as Marsellus and Butch have a fight which leads down a road and into a random store, when the store owner, Maynard (Duane Whitaker), just pulls out a shotgun, knocks them both out, takes them both to the basement, ties them both to chairs with ball gags on, calls a friend and brings out a Gimp, all with the intention of raping the two men who brought their fight into his random store. It's just writing a sentence like that which really showcases how much originality Tarantino possesses.

The third story, The Bonnie Situation, takes the basic story of following a life in the day of two murderers, when all of a sudden, Vincent accidently blows the head off Marvin inside their car, coating it in blood and bits of brains and skull. What really gets me about that scene is how casually Vincent remarks about shooting Marvin, as if he's as affected by it as he would be by spilling his drink or dropping his Quarter Pounder. The story then goes into a race against time as Vince, Jules and their friend Jimmie (Quentin Tarantino in his best cameo) have to get rid of a dead body and any evidence of it before Jimmie's wife comes home.

The final story, which is the Epilogue, takes the basic story of a hold-up, which is usually a story you'd expect to see shots flying and people dying. However, Tarantino chooses to do away with any violence for this part of the story, instead choosing to focus it upon the words coming from Jules' mouth rather than the bullets coming from his gun. What Tarantino does here is he chooses not to focus upon how a person blows somebody's head off, but instead focuses upon how the people react to the situation presented before them, and that is much more satisfying to watch than a typical exploding head.

The briefcase is a common talking point when it comes to this film's fanbase. We are given no clues as to what is inside it, all we know is that it's apparently beautiful, as remarked by "Pumpkin", and it's worth killing over. This is the MacGuffin which drives Julius and Vincent through this story and the mystery of what's inside isn't a large talking point for the films characters, but rather for the fanbase, which will have grown a much larger talking point after Tarantino admitted he doesn't have an explanation for what's inside.

Many people and groups make a common misconception about this film, that Quentin primarily focuses the film upon the gratuitous violence, which, frankly, is complete bullshit. With this movie, the violence takes a back seat to actually getting to know the characters who inhabit our screens, knowing their lives, their jobs, the way they talk to others, how they react when thrust into a situation. In fact, the violence isn't even as bad as it's made out to be. Take the scene where Willis enters the basement while wielding the katana, he slashes Maynard and drives the blade into him to finish him off, but we never once see the blade make contact with Maynard, just a red line on him when he turns back around, and we only see Willis make the motion that he's driving the blade into Maynard while the actual Katana is held off-screen.

Pulp Fiction is a masterpiece of a film. It's essential viewing, both for seeing that first time and for constant repeats, and it should've swept the 1994 Academy Awards. One of the easiest five star ratings I've ever given out. Now who else feels like going down to Big Kahuna Burger?


Myerla said…
Watched it a few months ago and it is without a doubt one of the best. I just loved it. His best work to date. Nice review. Its fast, witty, funny has great performances, superb writing what more could you ask for?
Tom_Film_Master said…
Terrific review James1 I really look forward to seeing this film and looking at Tarantino's films!
Matt Stewart said…
ah one of the best you have done so far my friend!
James Rodrigues said…
@Myerla My favourite from Tarantino, a true classic

@Tom_Film_Master Well I hope I didn't spoil you too much

@Matt S cheers for that, Matt. this review was probably the one I worked the most hard since I started reviewing films, which is why I wanted feedback for this review above all other
Chad Hill said…
Excellent review Rodders! Personally one of my favorite and most quoted films of all time, and your review does it justice.
James Rodrigues said…
@The Chad Reviews thanks for that, Chad.
Anyone who's seen the movie knows that you can just go on forever about the film. Good review.
James Rodrigues said…
@OMFGITSROHIT this pretty much is the film i'd go on about forever if I had the chance and the time, cheers man
HarleyQuinn said…
I absolutely adore this film as well, as you know well from reading my review. I also think you summed up the story much better than I did, but like Rohit says, I could go on forever about it. Brilliant review as always James!
James Rodrigues said…
@HarleyQuinn Thank you. I take pride in this review very much
Shaun said…
Pulp Fiction is one of my favorite movies of all times. It was the breakout movie for John Travolta, and it let the world see Tarentino's masterful work. This is a great review of a great movie, although personally I always thought it was gold inside the briefcase, but I can see Tarentino saying that even he didn’t know what it was. I was shocked to learn that my wife had never seen Pulp Fiction, so shocked I had to ask coworkers at DISH if they have seen it, and every once of the 20 I asked said yes, which makes me wonder what rock my wife grew up under. It baffles me how she could have not known about or seen the movie, but it was up to me to enlighten her, so I sat her in front of the television, hooked up the laptop, jumped on DISH online, and watched it with her. For me it was like the 30th time I have seen it. Happily she loved the movie, but she of course cried about the timeline. I agree with you the timeline has to be the way it is for the movie to work as well as it does.