Tarantino, one of the most distinctive directorial voices in the film industry today, is also one of the most divisive. While some say his movies’ success and charm rely on his tropes, others grow tired of them—his quick-witted and realistic dialogue (or his slow, often meandering discourse), his propensity to pay homage to (or “rip off better”) movies, his loyal affinity to vintage Hollywood (or his inability to accept change), his strategic (warning: major spoilers in the previous link) depiction of excessive violence (which, critics jokingly state, stems from his belief that the body is 99% blood), his tendency to employ profanity (or his lack of vocabulary forcing him to shock us with vulgarities), his incessant pop culture references (or his lazy reliance on “better,” established material) are often debated.
I don’t think that much of this criticism sticks to Tarantino, though, and his devotion to these film features throughout his 23-year moviemaking career leads me to believe he won’t change any time soon. Plus, if you believe that he’s going to retire after making his tenth film, he’s only got two films left to dramatically alter his style.
Aside from some of the commonalities mentioned above, two major elements of Tarantino’s films stand out to me. First, I appreciate Tarantino’s ability to select existing music tracks that drive home the emotion of a scene. My favorite is the torture scene in Reservoir Dogs because of the contrast between the upbeat song and the inhumanity of the visuals. It’s jarring, yet fascinating. If there were ever a scene that could distort and twist a classic song, it’s that one.
Second, I’m struck by the way Tarantino uses dialogue in his portrayal and development of unsavory characters. Rather than always hatching evil schemes and talking about “bad guy stuff,” his criminals speak in everyday language about mundane subject matter, often infused with casual racism and references to violence and pop culture. Such talk makes these characters both more relatable and, paradoxically, more vile. My favorite example of the juxtaposition of evil and normal in a Tarantino film is from Reservoir Dogs. While a man instructs his partner in how to execute a bank robbery through intimidation tactics, such as smashing employees’ noses with the butt of a gun and cutting off a manager’s finger, he realizes he’s famished, and says, “I’m hungry; let’s get a taco.”
Without relying on flashy camera work or multiple genres, Tarantino has managed to become one of the most influential directors of his generation. Even his earlier films, Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, feel as fresh and revolutionary today as when they were released over 20 years ago. I’m hoping that, in order to properly cement his filmmaking legacy, he can maintain his distinctive, controversial style for his final two films…