It has been six arduous years since his last feature film (1997's
"Jackie Brown"), but masterful writer-director Quentin Tarantino proves
he hasn't lost a thing with "Kill Bill: Volume One," a sumptuous,
poetic, beautiful, graphically violent, startlingly innovative, balls-to-the-wall
ode to the martial arts/spaghetti western/revenge genres. The film
may get inspiration from other B-movies that have come before it,
but it is guar anteed no one has ever seen a motion picture quite like this one.
In her meatiest big-screen role since Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" in
1994, Uma Thurman inhabits every last inch of a no-nonsense ex-assassin
known only as "The Bride" or "Black Mamba." On her wedding day four
and a half years ago, her husband-to-be was brutally murdered, her
unborn child sacrificed, and she herself was shot in the head and
left for deadall by the hands of her Assassination Squad, headed by
Bill (David Carradine) and followed by O-Ren Ishi/"Cottonmouth" (Lucy
Liu), Vernita Green/"Copperhead" (Vivica A. Fox), Budd/"Sidewinder"
(Michael Madsen), and Elle Driver/"California Mountain Snake" (Daryl
Hannah). When "The Bride" finally awakens from her coma, she has a
single thing on her mind: revenge against those that have wronged
her. Accordingly, she sets out to track them down and kill them one
by one. Her first two targets: O-Ren Ishi, a hired assassin residing
in Tokyo, and Vernita Green, now a married mother in Pasadena, California.
"Kill Bill: Volume One" includes all of the beloved hallmarks of a
Quentin Tarantino film, from pitch-perfect dialogue that enlivens
the characters and vibrates off the screen, to its multilayered storyline
that is meticulously told out of chronological order. Here, though,
Tarantino one-ups himself from a stylistic standpoint with a series
of suspense-ridden, spectacularly violent action sequences that are
crafted with more flawlessly vicious glee, airtight editing, and aesthetic
know-how than anything in 2003's "The Matrix Reloaded." Excluding
Paul Thomas Anderson (2002's "Punch-Drunk Love"), there is no filmmaker
working today as savvy about music as Tarantino, ingeniously incorporating
its every cue with remarkable precision and for maximum impact.
The action setpieces are inevitable highlights, but far exceed expectations.
The butcher knife battle between "The Bride" and Vernita Green in
Vernita's suburban home is off-kilter, to the point, and, in its final
moments, alternately sickening and perversely funny. Saving the biggest
showstopper for last, however, is the climactic House of Blue Leaves
battle against an entire army of guards, followed by the fight to
the death with O-Ren Ishi amidst an idyllic, snowy nighttime landscape.
These elongated scenes, gloriously brought to life by Sally Menke's
faultless editing and Robert Richardson's (2002's "The Four Feathers")
visually astounding and detailed cinematography. Richardson deserves
an Oscar nomination for this, the best-looking film of the year.
In addition, writer-director Quentin Tarantino throws in a smorgasbord
of other unexpected treats and in-jokes for audiences in the know,
including an awe-inspiring anime sequence de tailing the history of
O-Ren Ishi; black-and-white photography, its one technical credit
that fails to mesh well; boundless, over-the-top blood and guts; intentionally
jarring musical cuts; and even a visible string attached to the model
airplane supposedly carrying "The Bride." Daryl Hannah's haunting
whistle of Bernard Herrmann's "Twisted Nerve," only for the source
material to transform into the score of the entire scene, and the
indelible use of Japanese pop band The 5, 6, 7, 8's, are also noteworthy.
In the performance arena, Uma Thurman appears in nearly every major
scene and has rarely, if ever, been so radiant onscreen. Boasting
untamable willpower, athleticism, humor, and an unshakable sadness,
Thurman truly impresses. As O-Ren Ishi, the product of a tragic childhood
who does not hesitate to chop the heads off of anyone who refers negatively
to her Japanese-American heritage, Lucy Liu (2003's "Charl ie's Angels:
Full Throttle") sparkles with not a whole lot of screen time. The
same goes for Vivica A. Fox (2002's "Juwanna Mann") as assassin-turned-housewife
Vernita Green. As for the rest of the Assassination Squad, David Carradine,
Daryl Hannah (2003's "Casa de los Babys"), and Michael Madsen (2003's
"My Boss's Daughter") are only passingly glimpsed; "The Bride" will
be seeking revenge on them in "Volume Two."
Which leads me to the one unfortunate, woefully unnecessary misstep
that "Kill Bill: Volume One" holds, but could have easily avoided.
Tarantino's past filmsnamely, "Pulp Fiction" and "Jackie Brown"clocked
in at over 2 1/2 hours. The sprawling, epic work that is "Kill Bill"
was written as one complete motion picture, and would have been right
at hom e in the midst of Tarantino's longish, ambitious predecessors.
Facing a running time of over three hours, however, Miramax Films
and Tarantino agreed to splice the story in half and release it as
two separate releases ("Volume Two" is due out in February 2003).
Unlike "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, where each film has a definitive
beginning, middle, and end leading up to a grander tapestry, "Kill
Bill: Volume One" is frustrating in that it is needlessly only half
of a movie. Breaking it into two parts was a cheap studio ploy, mistrusting
of audiences' patience and financially greedy, to boot. Imagine going
to see a movie, getting involved in it, and then, midway through,
the projector breaks and the screening is abruptly canceled. The experience
of watching "Kill Bill: Volume One" is akin to this.
There is no doubt in my mind "Kill Bill: Volume Two" will be anything
less than a satisfying conclusion to a narrative that, when watched
in its entirety, will become a modern cinematic masterpiece. Judging
"Kill Bill: Volume One" on its own, it is a marvel of strikingly original
action setpieces and tight plotting, surrounded by a visual lyricism
difficult to translate into words. Equally difficult to explain is
Quentin Tarantino's sheer talent, far surpassing even heavyweights
like Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese. Tarantino is the real deal,
a cinema lover and force to be reckoned with whose every frame is
more than worth your timeeven when half the frames are missing.
Copyright © 2003 Dustin Putman