Pulp Fiction: No 8 best crime film of all time
Quentin Tarantino, 1994
Sunday 17 October 2010 11.48 BST
1994 was Quentin Tarantino's year. With audiences reeling from the shock of Reservoir Dogs two years earlier, the mantle of world's coolest film director was his for the taking. His second feature, the ambitious but oddly leisurely thriller Pulp Fiction, premiered at Cannes, where Clint Eastwood's jury awarded it the Palme d'Or. A year later, it had grossed $213m, faced off against Forrest Gump at the Academy Awards and planted an entire library of off mbeat references and quotable lines in the heads of susceptible cinemagoers. It would not be overstating the case to call it a phenomenon.
The idea of a portmanteau crime film had been cooked up by Tarantino and his old video store colleague, Roger Avary (who got a "story by" credit). But the picture's magic touch is the anti-chronological structure which enables its three stories to intersect in unusual ways – so the final story predates the first one, and a character who dies in the middle story reappears at the end, striding off toward a demise we have witnessed, but about which he can have no possible inkling. In the first chapter, two hitmen, Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules (Samuel L Jackson), take possession of a mysterious briefcase before Vincent goes on to chaperone his boss's girlfriend (Uma Thurman) on an evening that spins wildly out of control. The second story follows a boxer, Butch (Bruce Willis), whose failure to throw a fight as instructed leads him into territory which might reasonably be described as hellish. The closing episode has an unexpected air of sitcom about it as Vincent and Jules turn to a clean-up specialist named the Wolf (Harvey Keitel) when a misfired gun leaves a nasty mess in the back of their car. All this is bookended by scenes in a diner that is being held up by two excitable young crooks (Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer).
For better or worse, the movie made possible the long reign of Miramax, revived Travolta's career and ratified Tarantino's reputation. Familiarity with the director's box of tricks has bred a touch of contempt, but it's becoming easier, now that the hype has cleared, to see the movie for what it really is: an audacious attempt to fuse visual chutzpah and expansive storytelling, movies and music, art and trash. It's a true one-off.