As the release of ‘Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood’ is eagerly awaited, I’m ranking Tarantino’s first eight directorial efforts.
The king of ultra-stylized dialogue is making his return in 2019 with the much anticipated ‘Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood’. In prospect of this, I’m ranking his first eight directorial efforts. To preface, I’ll be discussing Kill Bill: Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 together, given that Tarantino himself often refers to the pair as one long film and says that to date, he has released eight feature films (with ‘Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood’ being the ninth). The first of this three-part saga will be looking at the films which I ranked eight, seventh and sixth from the Tarantino catalog.
8. Death Proof (2007)
Sorry Death Proof fans but I’m not going to hold back here. I really don’t like this movie and I honestly struggle to find any kind of positives in it.
If nothing else, then you can always enjoy a Tarantino flick for its dialogue and the interesting characters which inhabit the Tarantino-universe. The same can’t be said here. Every single characters speaks and interacts in the exact same way, resulting in long, arduous scenes full of dull conversations. Death Proof is supposed to be a homage to 70’s B-movies, but it really isn’t. Rather, it’s about a group of women who all speak exactly like Quentin Tarantino. These characters aren’t likeable or interesting – they’re vapid, obnoxious and very difficult to sympathise with on any level.
Apart from Kurt Russel’s entertaining performance, there really is very little to appreciate here. It seems quite apt that this film, more so than any other Tarantino work, is just a bit of a car crash.
7. Kill Bill: Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 (2003-2004)
I’m not a Kill Bill fan. I don’t really think that either particularly work, often for quite similar reasons. These two films just felt like such a step back from everything which we’d come to love from Tarantino since 1992. It doesn’t possess the wonderfully crafted, looping narrative of Pulp Fiction, it doesn’t contain the three-dimensional characters that we witnessed in his first three films and it never manages to scratch beneath the surface. To put it another way, Kill Bill is less interesting than Reservoir Dogs, less funny than Pulp Fiction and less dramatically intelligent than Jackie Brown. The result of this is a two-part film which often manages to be quite boring, despite the action-heavy narrative.
If you decide to watch Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2 back-to-back then some pacing issues will become extremely clear. It seems that Tarantino saved all the action for the first part of Kill Bill and all the dialogue for the second half and it just doesn’t work. Reservoir Dogs is so effective because it seamlessly blends action and dialogue together, whereas Kill Bill just seems to be permanently bogged down, be it in action or in dialogue.
Much of this comes down to the style vs. substance argument. My preference would always be towards that of substance but unfortunately the Kill Bill saga leans heavily the other way. The outcome is that I fail to care about any of the characters, not least Uma Thurman’s ‘The Bride’. Both Kill Bill films contain a handful of great scenes – particularly in Vol. 1 (such as the introduction to swordsmith Hattori Hanzo), but these great scenes certainly don’t constitute a great movie. I think discussing the two films as one is important, because there clearly is an excellent two hour film, somewhere within the four hours we’re given. Unfortunately, as is so often the case with Tarantino, he just couldn’t help himself.
6. The Hateful Eight (2015)
Here, Tarantino followed up one Western epic with another. Sadly, this one lacked so much of what made the first great. Whereas Django Unchained often favoured its story over the characters who reside within that story, The Hateful Eight has very little story to speak of, as a group of strangers attempt to negotiate being trapped in a stagecoach stopover during a blizzard.
First off, full credit to Tarantino for managing to managing to make a 160+ minute movie which is generally engaging throughout. I can’t think of many other modern directors who could do that and get away with it as he does. ‘Generally engaging’ is possibly a little bit generous, because there’s no getting away from the fact that The Hateful Eight is a real slog.
This is quite possibly the most Tarantino-esque film Tarantino has ever made, full of bloated dialogue and self-indulgence, meaning the cast has to do an awful lot of heavy lifting in the flick. The opening set piece for example, set almost entirely in a travelling carriage containing Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson and Jennifer Jason Leigh, contains some fantastic line delivery which really helps to appease some of the clunkier pieces of dialogue.
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