Pulp Fiction review – Tarantino's mesmeric thriller still breathtaking 20 years on

The dialogue, the soundtrack, the sheer directionless excitement – Tarantino's thunderclap of a thriller is just as brilliant as it was two decades ago

Twenty years on, Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction has been rereleased in cinemas, and it looks as mesmeric and mad as ever: callous, insolent, breathtaking. The icy wit, the connoisseur soundtrack, the violence (of which the N-bombs are a part), the extended dialogue riffing, the trance-like unreality, the inspired karmic balance of the heroin scene and the adrenalin scene, the narrative switchbacks that allow John Travolta to finish the film both alive and dead, the spectacle of him being made to dance badly, but also sort of brilliantly … above all else, the sheer directionless excitement that only Tarantino can conjure. In 1994 it broke over my head like a thunderclap, and in 1990s Britain this touchstone of cool seemed to extend its dangerous influence everywhere: movies, fiction, journalism, media, fashion, restaurants, you name it. Everyone was trying to do irony and incorrectness, but without his brilliance it just looked smug. (The Americans get Tarantino; we get Guy Ritchie and Jeremy Clarkson.) Travolta and Samuel L Jackson play Vincent and Jules, a couple of bantering hitmen working for Marsellus (Ving Rhames), who is highly protective of his wife, Mia (Uma Thurman), and about to conclude a payday from a fixed boxing match; Marsellus's fighter, Butch (Bruce Willis), is haunted by a childhood encounter with his late father's best friend (a jaw-dropping cameo from Christopher Walken). Everyone's destiny plays out with that of a couple of freaky stick-up artists, played by Amanda Plummer and Tim Roth. In 1994, all the talk was of former video-store clerk Tarantino's indifference to traditional culture. That patronised his sophisticated cinephilia, and in fact, 20 years on, the writerly influences of Edward Bunker, Elmore Leonard and Jim Thompson seem very prominent. Don DeLillo began the 90s by warning that the US is the only country in the world with funny violence. Maybe Pulp Fiction was the kind of thing he had in mind. Unmissable.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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