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Tarantino's Pulp Fiction revels in gangster bravado

Pulp Fiction

Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino.

Starring John Travolta, Bruce Willis,

Samuel L. Jackson, and Uma Thurman.

Loews Cheri.

By Rob Marcato
Staff Reporter

If you claim to have even the slightest characteristics of a film enthusiast, there is no way that you could have missed hearing or reading the recent praises of the new film Pulp Fiction. Since it won the Palm d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival this year, critics have extolled its virtues, giving it such exalted titles as "the new King Kong of crime movies."

Faced with writing this review, and knowing Pulp Fiction to be by far the most-critically hyped movie in recent memory, the last thing I wanted to do was be the conformist and fall into step with every other review I had read. Therefore, the fact that I am giving it a positive review, and an overwhelmingly positive one at that, should tip you off as to Pulp Fiction's undeniable greatness.

The film consists of three principle stories. One details the daily experiences of two hit-men (John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson). Another sees Travolta, at the request of his gangster boss, reluctantly taking the boss's wife (Uma Thurman) out for a night on the town. And the third shows a boxer (Bruce Willis), who has been paid off by Travolta's gangster boss to take a dive in his upcoming fight, instead choosing to win the fight and to take the money and run with his girlfriend. These and other smaller subplots are cleverly woven together to give an intensely entertaining depiction of the L.A. underworld.

But, in a film whose praise has been mostly due to its originality, these tales of hit men and criminals are certainly nothing we haven't seen before. So, what is it that makes the film so fresh and so unlike anything before it? The key does not lie in Pulp Fiction's plot-line but, instead, in its writer and director, Quentin Tarantino.

If this name is not familiar to you, then learn it, because right now there is no hotter name in Hollywood. His debut film, Reservoir Dogs (1992), was the story of a jewel heist gone bad. Written and directed by Tarantino, the film had a story of a raw and intensely violent nature that soon made it a cult hit. Since that moment, Quentin Tarantino has been the "next great director" of choice. He followed Reservoir Dogs with scripts for two movies, True Romance and the current film Natural Born Killers, and now with Pulp Fiction, Tarantino has demonstrated that all the prophecies of his unique ability were well-deserved.

There are several elements that set Pulp Fiction and its writer/director apart from all others. First are the characters: Tarantino doesn't depict his hit-men as one-dimensional killing machines. He reveals their complexities and depth by not only showing them when they are at work, but concentrating more on what they do before and after they work. For example, Travolta is fantastic in showing us that as hit man Vincent Vega he is not just a killer, but a thinker and a skeptic with vulnerability.

And Samuel L. Jackson, in perhaps the film's best performance as Vega's partner Jules, gives his character an incredible intensity whether he's reading his victim a passage from the Bible as a prelude to execution or arguing about the intimacy of foot-massages. He shows how Jules has begun to develop a conscience and reveals the inner conflicts that it causes. The depth of the characters is greatly due to Tarantino's wit and insight.

Closely-related is another of Tarantino's strengths - dialogue. In most movies, the dialogue is designed to cue the next dramatic plot twist. But Pulp Fiction's characters talk about completely random subjects, things that any two people might talk about, and in these conversations the characters come off as being amazingly real, free from the Hollywood gloss of most films.

As Jackson says about Tarantino's script, "It's an acting script. Most screenplays involve maybe 15 to 20 minutes of acting, real dialogue. Pulp Fiction has these huge chunks of dialogue that move the script along. It's totally engrossing."

The other element that really gives Pulp Fiction its unique personality is Tarantino's love of the shocking, the unpredictable, and the absurd. The most memorable scene in Reservoir Dogs, the infamous "ear" scene, had one of the jewel thieves cutting off a captive policeman's ear. Certainly there are scenes of the same gruesome magnitude in Pulp Fiction, including an adrenaline shot given to Uma Thurman when she is overdosing on cocaine, and a scene involving Bruce Willis and two redneck homosexual rapists. But, what's amazing is Tarantino's ability to find humor and absurdity in even the most horrible situation. You find yourself laughing at things that should just not be funny, and that is what's most memorable.

Pulp Fiction's got everything going for it. From top to bottom, the performances are dazzling, the dialogue is crackling, and the story never hits a lull. Tarantino's twisted mix of the ludicrous, the horrifying, and the hilarious manages to be incredibly entertaining and, most of all, funny.

Regardless whether or not you're into movies or if you're unsure about your predisposition to this one, I suggest you see Pulp Fiction. I guarantee it's unlike anything you've ever seen and it's something you'll not soon forget.