Today’s movie: Kill Bill

True, this was released as Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 but even the chapter numbering shows that Kill Bill is really one film that Miramax for commercial reasons chopped in half. Starz was considerate enough to run them consecutively tonight with Vol. 2 as the Saturday night premiere but for the most part this writeup treats both parts as a single piece. I have to admit hearing the title, which is repeated many times over the course of the thing, had a disconcerting effect as some aspect of my inner self reacted as if it were directed at me.

Quentin Tarantino can really make a movie when he puts in the effort. But he works at his own pace, enjoying the luxury and variety afforded by his success. If he wants to act or produce or just take time to kibbitz on other peoples’ projects, he does, though this doesn’t endear him to the public or the movie studios; I still think, however, that his lead performace in Destiny Turns on the Radio is sorely underrated. So while his reputation isn’t what it could be, I get the impression Tarantino doesn’t care. More power to him.

What does matter is that in about a dozen years he’s written and directed four movies, three of them (including this one) classics and one (Jackie Brown) questionable to some viewers but which I thought was pretty good. Reservoir Dogs worked within the gangster/heist genre boundaries but was an incredible take on it and Pulp Fiction simply blew up American cinema.

Anyway… Kill Bill. A very basic plot, set up in the opening scene: The Bride (Uma Thurman) was once part of an elite team of assassins run by Bill (David Carradine, after Warren Beatty declined) but, visibly pregnant, has run away to marry Tommy and work in his used record store; Bill and the other assassins (Vivica Fox, Lucy Liu, Michael Madsen, Darryl Hannah) show up at the wedding rehearsal and, guns blazing, kill everybody. Except, of course, Thurman isn’t dead, just in a coma for four years, and when she wakes up goes after the others for revenge. The movie is more or less told in voiceover by Thurman so no spoiler in noting that she gets everyone in the end.

The key is how she gets them. The creativity in dialog and plot twists, the imagination in visuals and staging the fight sequences (for which Tarantino got help from the acclaimed Woo-ping Yuen and Sonny Chiba, who also plays a small but significant role as maker of the finest Katana swords). Particularly impressive is his ability to integrate elements and conventions of many different classic film genres into a coherent, holistic new style. Inglorious Bastards, apparently his next major effort due out in 2006, is about a gang of misfits on a mission in World War II (in the vein of The Dirty Dozen) and I’m truly eager to see what he does with it.

Thurman, Carradine and Hannah give outstanding performances; Madsen and Liu are good and Fox has too small a role too early in the film to judge. Thurman carries this movie on her back in what seems to me to be the most impressive job of her career. Lately we’ve hardly been lacking in female action hero and sueprhero flicks but very few of those stars have made such meat out of their part. Hannah’s role is so contrary to the soft, sweet women she’s always cast as but looking at her more recent and upcoming credits in IMDB shows that producers aren’t picking up on this but perhaps she’ll get lucky and be cast in a TV drama that runs for years.

definitely recommended