In 1992 Quentin Tarantino introduced himself to the world with his directorial debut Reservoir Dogs. Notable for its unusual take on a heist film, set as it is before and after but with no footage of the actual event, the film became a huge critical success and took $14m from a budget of $1.4m. This success lead to him receiving funding for his next project, co-written by his long-time friend and fellow video store employee Roger Avary, Pulp Fiction was born.
Based on the idea of a trilogy of stories in one film and told in the calssic Tarantino non-linear style it follows three main leads who are part of the Los Angeles mob and underground scene. Vincent Vega (John Travolta) is a hitman for a mob boss who has to look after his bosses wife Mia (Uma Thurman) without ‘touching her.’ The second story follows boxer Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) as he tries to outrun the same mob boss having not thrown a fight he was supposed to. The final story follows Vincent’s partner Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) and the way he deals with a couple (Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer) that hold up the diner he is eating in.
The first thing to say about Pulp Fiction is that it is cool. Not the kind of cool that is unfashionable a few years after it’s released, but the kind of cool that is timeless because of its retro, over-styled look and atmosphere. It has an electric dialogue that is bursting with pop culture references and a soundtrack that enhances every single scene without ever heavy-handedly leading the audience. Every scene is deliberately formed and crafted by Tarantino to enhance the mood of this post-modern masterpiece.
The title comes from the classic pulp fiction novellas and hard-boiled detective fiction from the 1950s and 60s that used graphic violence and incredible dialogue to portray the melodrama in a more traditionally dramatic fashion. The film is self-referential and darkly comic in its nature, but never pulls punches when it can deliver something memorable and engaging. Whether it’s the famous dance scene that slyly parodies Travolta’s past or the cryptic briefcase contents, Tarantino fills this dark noir-styled film with candy-colour bright neon and the juxtaposition works beautifully.
The cast, an incredible ensemble, is a selection of newcomers and fading lights who clearly saw an opportunity to star in something unique. Each one perfectly fits their characters and add to the sense of decay and atrophy that inhabits the L.A. underground. These are actors whose looks are on the wane and who are utterly believable in even the most outrageous scenes. The dialogue among them is fast-paced and has a wonderful slow, rhythmic slur to it. Whether it’s Vega talking absent-mindedly about burgers, or Winnfield quoting the Bible to terrified drug addicts almost every scene of Pulp Fiction has become iconic.
Told out of sequence and intertwining the stories of all the major cast, Pulp Fiction is a witty, intelligent and revolutionary film. It showed Hollywood that you could tell a series of compelling stories in a non-traditional style and have it be successful. It launched Tarantino into directorial stratospere, rekindled the dying careers of Jackson, Willis and Travolta and was nominated for seven Oscars at the 67th Academy Awards. Not bad for a film on a budget of $8.4m.