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Pulp Fiction

The art of film making was changed forever with the 1994 instant classic Pulp Fiction, a bloody and unapologetic crime story that broke all the rules where making movies was concerned and became one of the most talked about movies in history that the most devout film buffs continue to argue passionately about.

I have watched this movie over a dozen times and have avoided writing about it until this point because I wanted to see if time, re-watches, and input from buffs and film historians might help to clarify the things about this movie that mystified and aggravated me. Some questions have been resolved to my satisfaction but there are other things about this movie I realize I will never understand, but after my most recent viewing I feel ready to talk about this masterpiece and why I never tire of re-watching.

Director and co-screenwriter Quentin Tarantino created a new way of telling what is, at its core, a rather ordinary story by telling the story out of sequence and populating it with extraordinary characters who are never doing or saying what they are supposed to, along with an uncanny ability to create tension and suspense onscreen that rivals Hitchcock...not the "boo" kind of tension, but the "stop talking because there's a bomb under your table just seconds from exploding" tension, the kind of nail-biting tension that keeps the viewer nailed to the screen.

On the surface, this is the story of some criminals and assorted lowlifes whose lives intersect in bizarre coincidences and spark tales of unspeakable violence and redemption. The principal characters include a pair of intelligent and philosophical hitmen named Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent Vega (John Travolta), who have been sent to a seedy apartment building to retrieve a briefcase that belongs to their boss, Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames). Marsellus also has an aging boxer named Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) in his pocket and has arranged for him to go down in the 5th round of his next fight. Marsellus has also arranged for Vincent to take his wife, Mia (Uma Thurman) out to dinner while he is out of town and it is these three separate yet connected stories that provide the canvas for this extraordinary story which stems from some bad choices made by the characters involved and none of these seemingly simple events going as planned.

Tarantino and co-screenwriter won a richly deserved Oscar for this intricate screenplay, a master of cinematic trickery that requires the meticulous connection of tiny story elements that inform the attentive viewer that this story is being told out of order but never tells us what order the events of the story should really be. After over a dozen viewings, I'm still not 100% sure of the order of events in this story, but Tarantino creates such imaginative diversions for us to get swept up in that we really don't care.

Tarantino the director is no slouch either...as I mentioned before, the man rivals Hitchcock in his ability to create unbearable tension and suspense...when Jules and Vincent arrive to get the case and we've seen them weapon up, it's maddening when they get the case and we have to wait for them to take care of business. Watching Butch and Marsellus tied up in the basement of that store and wondering what's going to happen to them was ultimate squirm material as was Jules' confrontation with a small time robber (Tim Roth).

Not only does Tarantino know how to create suspense but he also knows how to mine laughs from situations that on the surface are in no way amusing. I always find myself laughing throughout Vincent's situation with Mia and Jules' handling of the idiots who had the briefcase...and that damn briefcase...a large chunk of this story centers around a briefcase and we are never told exactly what's in it. Film experts have argued for years about what it is and even Tarantino never really decided what was in it, yet the reactions that the two actors who see the contents. Travolta and Roth, react in a similar way...something tangible and very valuable, but in the mind of Tarantino, just a red herring.

There is some extraordinary acting led by Samuel L. Jackson, robbed of an Oscar for his electrifying Jules and John Travolta, who also received a nomination and revived a career that was dying after a long series of flops. I learned recently that Michael Madsen was originally approached for the role and turned it down. I could see Madsen in the role but Travolta's legacy as an actor really worked for him here...how could you watch him on that dance floor with Uma Thurman and not have Saturday Night Fever flash through your head? I also think Bruce Willis gives the best performance of his career as Butch, the tortured athlete on the run from his past and present.

The film is rich with atmosphere creating some of the most extraordinary settings for this unconventional story...Jack Rabbit Slims is just possibly the coolest restaurant I have ever seen in a movie. This is one of a kind movie making and should be the first class for any serious student of film making...the ultimate textbook.