Jules and Vincent (Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta) are hitmen working for a gangster by the name of Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames). They are tasked with retrieving a suitcase containing something belonging to Wallace from some low level associates. Later, Vincent is supposed to escort Marsellus’ wife Mia (Uma Thurman) for the evening. Meanwhile, Marsellus has recruited boxer Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) to take a dive in an upcoming boxing match. When Butch fails to do so, he finds himself needing to leave town as quickly as possible, or face Marsellus’ wrath.
OK, Pulp Fiction. I’ve been trying to get this review straight in my head for a few weeks now, and have pretty much given up in favour of whatever ramblings happen to spill over my keyboard today. You see, a lot has been said about Pulp Fiction already. It’s the film that launched Quentin Tarantino into mainstream popularity, earned him his first Oscar nominations (Best Director, Best Original Screenplay) and indeed his first Oscar (Screenplay, definitely not Supporting Actor). It can often be found in the upper ranks of a great many Best Of lists of movie fans, and it’s one of just 88 films to appear on all 5 lists I’m attempting to complete. And on the 3 lists that are ranked, it sits at #9, #5 and #3. If the lists and ranks are all consolidated and averaged, it comes out as the 3rd highest ranked film on there, below only The Shawshank Redemption and The Empire Strikes Back. And yet, when a recent Facebook trend saw myself and some movie blogging fans compiling lists of our personal top 101 films, despite having just seen Pulp Fiction and it being very fresh in my mind, I couldn’t find space for it on my list. It was beaten out by the likes of Deep Blue Sea, Demolition Man and Kung Fu Panda. Then again, bear in mind that was a favourites list, not a greatest list. I’ll acknowledge that Pulp Fiction is a better film than those, but given the choice of what I’d rather sit down and watch at any given point, Pulp Fiction is going to remain a little further down the list.
So, why? Well, I think some of it stems from my first viewing of the film. Forgive me if I’ve told the story before, but the first time I watched Pulp Fiction it was courtesy of a friend of mine, who insisted on not only showing me the film, but also re-arranging it into what he believed to be an improved order. Pulp Fiction, as you’ll probably know, is already shown in a non-linear format, opening with a diner robbery, then cutting back to earlier that day, then jumping ahead a segment, then back again to fill in a fairly substantial gap. When my friend, who shall remain unnamed but whom I have not spoken to for some time (hey man, how’re things?), showed me the film, I can’t quite recall the exact degree of chopping and changing that he applied, but I can say for definite that his final cut did not in any way feature Harvey Keitel’s character of The Wolf, a segment which has turned out to be amongst the highlights of the film. What I do recall is a lot of pausing, jumping back to the DVD menu and skipping around the scenes, breaking up any narrative flow and essentially ruining the whole experience for me, for reasons I’ve never been able to ascertain. It’s not like he even arranged the scenes chronologically! It’s just maddening and it would be some time before I revisited the film again. Needless to say, now I watch the film in its correct order, as prescribed by Tarantino, but whilst it is a vast improvement upon that initial viewing, part of my brain is still stuck in that jarring past.
I cannot truthfully blame everything on that friend and that first viewing. There are elements to this film that I genuinely don’t like. The first of them is Uma Thurman, and subsequently everything she is involved with. I can’t put my finger on why, but I just do not like her as an actress, which is probably why I’ve only seen the Kill Bill movies once apiece and don’t recall much of either. Outside of Tarantino’s work the only films she has appeared in that I like even a little bit are Gattaca and Tape, and both of those I like in spite of her involvement. Here, Thurman plays Marsellus’ wife, Mia, and I kind of hate her. I find her storyline to be by far the weakest – she and Vincent go for a meal and a dance at Jack Rabbit Slim’s, followed by some ill-fated drug-play – and the only good thing it adds to the story is the setting of the restaurant, which is a retro diner where you sit in classic cars and are waited on by the likes of Marilyn Monroe or Chuck Berry (Steve Buscemi). It’s a cool place, and I approve of the many and various movie and pop culture references all over the scene, but the conversation between Mia and Vincent was rather dull. I don’t think the two have a great deal of chemistry either, and I find the dance sequence to be absolutely terrible, but then again that’s what I think of most dance sequences, because I don’t understand them. I can’t even tell if the dancing they do is supposed to be good or comically bad. It could really go either way. The absolute worst aspect of Thurman’s screen-time though, and I think this is a divisive moment in the film, is the “Don’t be a square” moment, where she draws out a rectangle (NOT A FUCKING SQUARE, THIS PISSED ME OFF SO MUCH) in the air. I don’t get it. I just don’t understand why anyone would include this moment in a film. Well, not this moment. It’s not the action of Mia drawing a rectangle in the air that annoys me as much as the directorial choice to then drawn the shape with a dashed line on the screen. Clearly I’m missing something here, but I find this moment utterly terrible.
Come to think of it, outside of the scenes with Mia, I can’t recall much of anything that I don’t like. Everything else can be legitimately loved by everyone. This is a film that makes hitmen real, conversations about foot massages interesting and the prospect of not eating bacon almost understandable. Many of the scenes are unforgettable, the performances powerful (it’s been a long time since I’ve seen Ed Wood, but I find it hard to believe Martin Landau was more deserving of his Supporting Actor Oscar than Sam Jackson, who is just killing it here), the soundtrack is terrific and the story is gripping. It all runs a little long perhaps, but that could just be me wanting the Mia segment cut down.
There are so many monologues, speeches and dialogue exchanges that have become infamous (yet somehow my girlfriend hadn’t been aware of any of them, from Ezekiel 25:17 to Captain Koons with the watch up his ass, nothing), character designs are iconic and whole scenes are just burned into your memory. Butch and Marsellus in the pawn shop. Vince and Jules in the diner. Marvin. The Wolf. The plaster on the back of Marsellus’ head. That giant-ass needle. Big Kahuna burger. Five dollar shakes. The suitcase. The Pop Tarts. Every damn thing. Who am I kidding? It doesn’t matter if this film truly resonates with me or not. It’s had such a huge impact on popular culture it’s no wonder there were so many imitators in the mid-to-late nineties. Who can blame them? It may not be my favourite film of all time, but I have to respect what it is, and that’s a damn fine movie.
Choose Film 9/10