Quentin Tarantino – the name represents machismo, style & loads of attitude. And a good deal of the same can be found in the strongly etched out female protagonists in his films. They are tough, sexy, sassy, smart and hard as nails . Who will stop at nothing before they get what they want. They definitely aren’t what they look like. An aura and an element of mysticism surrounds them. There is always a hidden agenda which they have and which makes them enter potentially dangerous situations willingly. And these traits or nuances make these characters so memorable. Be it Pam Grier as Jackie Brown, Lucy Liu as O-ren Ishii(Kill Bill Vol-I), Uma Thurman as The Bride or Melanie Laurentz as Shosanna Dreyfuss(Inglorious Basterds).
His films have some great characters who despite having a short screen time make a lasting impression. Their performances add a lot of sheen to the proceedings.
Case in point being Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz(Til Schweiger) in Inglourious Basterds. The way his character is introduced is superb. Especially the narration of his flashback.
“The reason for Hugo Stiglitz’s celebrity among German soldiers is simple.
As a German-enlisted man, he killed 13 Gestapo officers.
Instead of putting him up against a wall, the High Command decided to send him back to Berlin to be made an example of.
Needless to say, once the Basterds heard about him, he never got there.”
Stiglitz may not have a very big role but the way his character is introduced and presented, it stays in your mind long after the film has ended. Other such characters that come to my mind are Gogo Yubari the crazy assassin hired by Lucy Liu in Kill Bill or Chris Tucker as Beaumont Livingston in Jackie Brown.
The protagonists in Tarantino’s films are more than often involved in shady deals or business. Be It Samuel L Jackson in Pulp fiction or Jackie Brown, Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen etc in Reservoir Dogs. Even if they are gainfully employed, they are often engaged in achieving a particular sinister mission. Like Brad Pitt and the basterds in Inglorious Basterds.
Morality has never been a point of conflict in Tarantino’s films. There is never a sense of dilemma in the protagonists mind regarding right and wrong. The protagonists in Tarantino’ s film are most of the times amoral. They go about doing the job because that’s what they are supposed to do without thinking about the consequences of their actions. For instance, Lt Aldo Raine(Brad Pitt) in Inglourious Basterds is concerned with one thing only ‘Killin Nazis‘. That is his way of extracting revenge from the Germans for the atrocities committed by the Germans on the Jews. There is no argument on whether the means justifies the ends or not, neither in the protagonists minds nor that of the audience.
There is just the hunter and the hunted on two opposite sides. The viewer is also therefore spared from endless sermonizing on the clash between good and bad unlike many other films. The protagonist is always concerned with achieving his/her mission , morals be damned.
More than often the protagonists get involved in some crazy mishaps leading to some unexpected but funny situations. Like the trigger pulling incident of John Travolta in Pulp Fiction.
Music plays a very important role in Tarantino’s films. The way he integrates music into the proceedings is simply exemplary. The way Tarantino uses Background Music or retro songs to shoot or build up a scene is orgasmic.
Take for instance the famous ear chopping scene in Reservoir dogs featuring Michael Madsen. When Madsen ties the cop to a chair and thereafter turns on the radio, there is a nice retro song playing on the radio. Thereafter, Madsen coolly swings to the song while he chops the ear of the cop with a razor. And all you can hear is helpless grunts by the cop, helplessly trying to fight off a maniacal Madsen. The way the song is used in depicting the scene gives you goose bumps. Notice that Tarantino doesn’t use any BGM apart from the above mentioned song in the scene. This gives it an even more chilling effect. Trust someone like Tarantino to use music for executing scenes so uniquely yet effectively.
Kill Bill is one film which very well displays his brilliant sense of music. The whistle tune played by Elle driver while she goes to kill The Bride in the hospital changes from being sweet sounding to absolutely menacing in a spur of a second. The theme music playing in the background when The Bride and O-Ren Ishii are heading for a lethal confrontation creates an excitement amongst the viewer indicating that there is a lot of action that is waiting to happen.
Even the action in Tarantino’s’ films is brief but very well staged & executed. Be it the shootout scene at the bar in Inglourious Basterds or the clash between the bride and a dozen odd henchmen of Lucy Liu in Kill Bill. Or the fight between Vernita Green and The Bride in Kill Bill. The action scenes are very quick , they don’t last for much long yet it is very effective and gets the desired reaction from the audience.
Dialogues are the mainstay of any Tarantino enterprise. Tarantino effectively uses dialogues for some specific purposes : to carry the story forward or to establish that though his protagonists are engaged in unscrupulous activities yet they are very normal and ordinary human beings. Or to establish the presence of a certain character. Like the opening scene in Reservoir dogs, the thugs (led by Harvey Keitel ) are planning a robbery yet they find all the time in the world to engage in a trivial discussion on Madonna’s song “About A Virgin”. Or be it the conversations between Samuel L Jackson and John Travolta in Pulp Fiction. Or the iconic scene in which Jackson threatens the business associates of Marcellus Wallace .
Or sample some of the lines of Samuel L Jackson from Jackie Brown
“I’m serious as a heart attack.”
“My ass may be dumb, but I ain’t no dumbass.”
“Somebody with a grudge blew Beaumont’s brains out…
Oh, shit.That shit rhymes…Blew Beaumont’s brains out…”
The way Tarantino builds up a scene and ends it is also remarkable. He takes his own sweet time to build a scene and ends it quickly even before you can say “Whoa”. Like the bar shootout scene in Inglorious Basterds. Or the scene towards the climax in Jackie Brown between Louis Garra (Robert De Niro) and Melanie (Bridget Fonda). While exchanging the bag, Garra knows that there was some goof up and he has misplaced his car keys. All the while, he is being constantly taunted by Melanie for misplacing his keys. Initially Garra tries to ignore her while frantically searching for his car keys. But when he cant bear her taunts any longer he simply shoots her leaving her dead and leaves the spot calmly. The way the scene begins and ends is simply amazing.
However, the greatest strength of Tarantino is that he manages to extract uniformly spectacular performances from his actors. I mean, have we ever heard any actor putting up a mediocre show in any of his films ? Hell no. Be it Samuel L Jackson in Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown, John Travolta in Pulp Fiction or Christoph Waltz in Inglorious Basterds, most of the performances in his films turn out to be iconic and truly memorable. He also has a thing for re-inventing icons or stars of yesteryear’s. Such as Pam Grier with Jackie Brown or the late David Carradine in Kill Bill.
The looks which the characters sport in his films are indeed different and go a long way in adding to the overall feel of the characters. The looks sported by the actors convey a lot about the characters. For instance Samuel L Jackson in Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown adds to the overall menace which the character exudes. Or be it Gary Oldman as Drexl the pimp in True Romance ( the movie which was written by Tarantino). Oldman plays a loathsome pimp in the movie and the way in which he has been styled adds to the overall creep factor of the character.
Come to think of it, a Tarantino film is like an experience . There’s so much you can observe and enjoy in his films. And most of the times you end up asking for more. With every viewing, the film gets all the more enjoyable.
Quentin Tarantino can be truly be called as ‘an auteur’ or ‘a maverick film maker’ . He has in more ways than one redefined various genres with his uber cool movies which often has a unique storytelling pattern. Be it the heist flick genre with Reservoir Dogs. Be it the gangster movie genre with an uber cool Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown. Be it the action movie genre with Kill Bill. Or be it the war movie genre with Inglourious Basterds.
And now with his next venture Django Unchained which stars Jamie Foxx & Leonardo Dicaprio amongst others, it seems Tarantino is all set to redefine the Western movie genre. As the trailer is due to be released soon, all the Tarantino bhakts are eagerly awaiting Django Unchained to see what it has to offer for us.