If you’re ever watching a movie and hear a 70s funk song playing while two characters talk extensively in a restaurant, and suddenly someone blows someone else’s head off, you’re probably watching a film directed by Quentin Tarantino.
Quentin Tarantino is known as one of the greatest directors of our generation, chiefly because of his development of a distinguished film style. Though Tarantino’s films are all, in a sense, adaptations of others, or sometimes other genres, he makes them his own with his excellent dialogue and unique visual flair. His appropriations of noir, westerns, and the samurai film often feature shot-for-shot scene remakes, but are also specialized by his use of non-linear storytelling.
Reservoir Dogs, at least in terms of premise, is simple: it tells the story of a robbery gone awry. The twist? Tarantino never shows us the heist. He only shows the events preceding it and the unfortunate aftermath. Reservoir Dogs is one of the lowest budget movies that I have ever seen, but its style carries it all the way. Tarantino’s directing, amazingly, can be almost the same with a budget of one million dollars or 50 million. The opening scene shows a couple guys eating at a restaurant discussing, of all things, the meaning of a Madonna song.
The film plays out with events scrambled around, out of their actual order but strangely, logically organized. We see the thieves scrambling to recover from the massive bungling of their plan, and then we see the boss and one of his men coming up with the plan. The best part is the sequence that shows Mr. Orange (a cop masquerading as one of the heist-men) perfecting an anecdote that is part of his cover. We see him memorizing it, repeating it to himself, and then telling it in a bar with the men he is deceiving. The scene shifts, and suddenly he is in the anecdote, living it out as he is telling it. Tarantino’s layers of disconnected scenes actually enhance the viewing of the film by showing all the individual pieces of the puzzle leading up to the movie’s explosive climax.
This isn’t to say that this method works every time. Pulp Fiction, which uses the same jumbled up sense of chronology, is essentially a series of events, interesting ones at that, pieced together, leading up to nothing, leaving the viewer slightly confused when the final shot of the movie contains a character that died midway through.
Tarantino writes excellent dialogue. In Inglorious Basterds, the dialogue is probably the film’s most redeeming feature. The story is tense, and violent for sure, but there are no extended battle sequences (save for one, that shouldn’t be spoiled) and the only fighting that ensues usually does so as a result of an extremely well-penned conversation. My favorite scene from the movie lasts about twenty minutes or so. The Basterds, accompanied by a British special agent (played excellently by Michael Fassbender) have a rendezvous in a french tavern, where they will further hatch a plan. Hindering their operation is a group of Germans having a fairly rowdy party. Eventually, a German officer approaches the Basterds’ table and engages in conversation — that sort of inquisitive, mock-friendly talk the movie is full of. He notices the peculiarities of the Brit’s accent (fluent as he is, he hasn’t mastered the different speech patterns of particular German regions) and the overall suspect nature of their meeting. When he sees Fassbender’s character make the hand sign for three, ordering drinks, which is different from the customary sign in Germany, he is on to them. A shootout ensues for about fifteen seconds, eliminating almost every person in the room. I’ve heard rumors about Tarantino writing a book; I hope he does, I know I’d read it. The man has a definite way with words.
Now for what I wish I could change about the visual style of Quentin Tarantino. He seems to believe that the fetishization of blood makes his movies better somehow, but in my opinion it doesn’t. Not only is it excessive, it is to the degree of unrealism. It made sense in the movie Kill Bill, as a nod to Japanese action movies. In a movie like Pulp Fiction, however, that stands almost solely on the legs of its dialogue and ability to create absurd situations, it is totally unnecessary. Tarantino also generously dispenses racial slurs and hard curse words like candy, wielding vulgarity like a film technique in itself.
I have to say, I’m not a fan of this. I would have liked to come to know his work before I was old enough to see a rated R movie. It is a tad tragic, when you think about it, that a director’s entire body of work is restricted for an entire demographic. Look at filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, who have made plenty of mature movies, but still make lighthearted movies that young people can enjoy as well. Quentin Tarantino is not a great director because of how crude and bloody he makes his movies. He is a great director because he employs perfectly stylized dialogue and knows how to use a camera effectively.
My opinion of Tarantino is one of the most divided that I have about anything. He does a lot of things I see as genius; I wish some screenwriters might take a page out of his book. His fondness for portraying everything horrible about life however, I could do without. It is with a nervous mind that I will continue to venture into Tarantino’s filmography, relishing some details, and lamenting the inclusion of others.