Pulp Fiction [Blu-ray]
#95 (1998) and #94 (2007) on the AFI List of the Best 100 American Movies
Pulp Fiction is a 1994 American crime film directed by Quentin Tarantino, who co-wrote its screenplay with Roger Avary. The film is known for its rich, eclectic dialogue, ironic mix of humor and violence, nonlinear storyline, and host of cinematic allusions and pop culture references. The film was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture; Tarantino and Avary won for Best Original Screenplay. It was also awarded the Palme d'Or at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival. A major critical and commercial success, it revitalized the career of its leading man, John Travolta, who received an Academy Award nomination, as did costars Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman.
Directed in a highly stylized manner, Pulp Fiction joins the intersecting storylines of Los Angeles mobsters, fringe players, small-time criminals, and a mysterious briefcase. Considerable screen time is devoted to conversations and monologues that reveal the characters' senses of humor and perspectives on life. The film's title refers to the pulp magazines and hardboiled crime novels popular during the mid-20th century, known for their graphic violence and punchy dialogue. Pulp Fiction is self-referential from its opening moments, beginning with a title card that gives two dictionary definitions of "pulp". The plot, as in many of Tarantino's other works, is presented out of chronological sequence.
The picture's self-reflexivity, unconventional structure, and extensive use of homage and pastiche have led critics to describe it as a prime example of postmodern film. Considered by some critics a black comedy, the film is also frequently labeled a "neo-noir". Critic Geoffrey O'Brien argues otherwise: "The old-time noir passions, the brooding melancholy and operatic death scenes, would be altogether out of place in the crisp and brightly lit wonderland that Tarantino conjures up. [It is] neither neo-noir nor a parody of noir". Similarly, Nicholas Christopher calls it "more gangland camp than neo-noir", and Foster Hirsch suggests that its "trippy fantasy landscape" characterizes it more definitively than any genre label. Pulp Fiction is viewed as the inspiration for many later movies that adopted various elements of its style. The nature of its development, marketing, and distribution and its consequent profitability had a sweeping effect on the field of independent cinema (although it is not an independent film itself). Considered a cultural watershed, Pulp Fiction's influence has been felt in several other media.
John Travolta as Vincent Vega: Tarantino cast Travolta in Pulp Fiction only because Michael Madsen, who had a major role—Vic Vega—in Reservoir Dogs, chose to appear in Kevin Costner's Wyatt Earp instead. Madsen was still rueing his choice over a decade later. Harvey Weinstein pushed for Daniel Day-Lewis in the part. Travolta accepted a bargain rate for his services—sources claim either $100,000 or $140,000—but the film's success and his Oscar nomination as Best Actor revitalized his career. Travolta was subsequently cast in several hits including Get Shorty, in which he played a similar character, and the John Woo blockbuster Face/Off. In 2004, Tarantino discussed an idea for a movie starring Travolta and Madsen as the Vega brothers; the concept remains unrealized.
Samuel L. Jackson as Jules Winnfield: Tarantino had written the part with Jackson in mind, but the actor nearly lost it after his first audition was overshadowed by Paul Calderón's. Jackson assumed the audition was merely a reading. Harvey Weinstein convinced Jackson to audition a second time, and his performance of the final diner scene won over Tarantino. Jules was originally scripted with a giant afro, but Tarantino and Jackson agreed on the Jheri-curled wig seen in the film. (One reviewer took it as a "tacit comic statement about the ghettoization of blacks in movies".) Jackson received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Calderon appears in the movie as Paul, a bartender at Marsellus's social club.
Uma Thurman as Mia Wallace: Miramax favored Holly Hunter or Meg Ryan for the role. Alfre Woodard and Meg Tilly were also considered, but Tarantino wanted Thurman after their first meeting. She dominated most of the film's promotional material, appearing on a bed with cigarette in hand. She was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar and was launched into the celebrity A-list. She took little advantage of her newfound fame, choosing not to do any big-budget films for the next three years. Thurman would later star in Tarantino's two Kill Bill movies.
Willis evoked one 1950s actor in particular for Tarantino: "Aldo Ray in Jacques Tourneur's Nightfall .... I said let's go for that whole look." His boxing robe, designed by Betsy Heimann, exemplifies Tarantino's notion of costume as symbolic armor.
Bruce Willis as Butch Coolidge: Willis was a major star, but most of his recent films had been box-office disappointments. As described by Peter Bart, taking a role in the modestly budgeted film "meant lowering his salary and risking his star status, but the strategy...paid off royally: Pulp Fiction not only brought Willis new respect as an actor, but also earned him several million dollars as a result of his gross participation." Willis's appearance and physical presence were crucial to Tarantino's interest in casting him: "Bruce has the look of a 50s actor. I can't think of any other star that has that look."
Harvey Keitel as Winston Wolf or simply "The Wolf": The part was written specifically for Keitel, who had starred in Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs and was instrumental in getting it produced. In the filmmaker's words, "Harvey had been my favorite actor since I was 16 years old." Keitel had played a character similarly employed as a "cleaner" in Point of No Return, released a year earlier.
Tim Roth as "Pumpkin" or "Ringo": Roth had starred in Reservoir Dogs alongside Keitel and was brought on board again. He had used an American accent in the earlier film, but uses his natural, London one in Pulp Fiction. Though Tarantino had written the part specifically with Roth in mind, TriStar head Mike Medavoy preferred Johnny Depp or Christian Slater.
Amanda Plummer as Yolanda or "Honey Bunny": Tarantino wrote the role for Plummer, specifically to partner Roth onscreen. Roth had introduced the actress and director, telling Tarantino, "I want to work with Amanda in one of your films, but she has to have a really big gun." Plummer followed up with director Michael Winterbottom's Butterfly Kiss, in which she plays a serial killer.
Maria de Medeiros as Fabienne: Butch's girlfriend. Tarantino met the Portuguese actress while traveling with Reservoir Dogs around the European film festival circuit. She had previously costarred with Thurman in Henry & June (1990), playing Anaïs Nin.
Ving Rhames as Marsellus Wallace: Before Rhames was cast, the part was offered to Sid Haig, who had appeared in many classic exploitation movies of the 1970s. Haig passed on the role. According to Bender, Rhames gave "one of the best auditions I've ever seen." His acclaimed performance led to his being cast in big-budget features such as Mission Impossible, Con Air, and Out of Sight.
Eric Stoltz as Lance: Vincent's drug dealer. Courtney Love later reported that Kurt Cobain was originally offered the role of Lance; if he had taken it, Love would have played the role of his wife. Tarantino, however, denies that he ever even met Cobain, much less offered him a role in the movie.
Rosanna Arquette as Jody: Lance's wife. Pam Grier read for the role, but Tarantino did not believe audiences would find it plausible for Lance to yell at her. Grier was later cast as the lead of Tarantino's Jackie Brown. Ellen DeGeneres also read for Jody.
Christopher Walken as Captain Koons: Walken appears in a single scene, devoted to the Vietnam veteran's monologue about the gold watch. In 1993, Walken had appeared in another small but pivotal role in the "Sicilian scene" in the Tarantino-written True Romance.