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Review: Kill Bill (2003 – 2004)

Kill Bill (2003 – 2004)

Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Premise: A former assassin (Uma Thurman) awakens from a coma and begins a violent rampage as she exacts revenge on those who betrayed her. The film is divided into two volumes.

What Works: Kill Bill combines colorful characters, nonlinear storytelling, and cinematic allusions typical of Tarantino’s other work, but this film jettison’s extraneous dialogue in favor of more cinematic modes of storytelling. The result is an arrow point of a film that, despite totaling more than four hours in length, manages to hold the audience’s rapt attention. The first volume is heavy on movement and action but light on story and character development. It establishes the tone and the non-linear arrangement of its sequences solves what would otherwise be an unbalanced narrative.  The second volume focuses less on action and more on character development.  Taken as a whole the film has a completeness and a symmetry that makes it a narrative marvel. The characters of Kill Bill are some of the most watchable of all of Tarantino’s films. The Bride, played by Uma Thurman, is a terrific creation, a woman who is a true female warrior, rather than a woman acting like a man, and she maintains her femininity and a degree of vulnerability that makes her quest more engaging. As Bill, the leader of an assassination ring, David Carradine emits great presence with a minimum of screen time. Tarantino uses the character very wisely, showing him just enough to keep the character involved in the unfolding events while also maintaining his mystery. Like most other Tarantino films, Kill Bill is a film about other films; in this case it is an ode to action and kung fu pictures, but Kill Bill integrates the references into the story much more successfully than any other film, except maybe Pulp Fiction.

What Doesn’t: The first volume of Kill Bill is so light on character development and takes its violence, however stylized, to such a level that some audience members might be too sickened. The second volume reverses this, and those who enjoyed the roller coaster ride of the first part might bet let down by the more contemplative second half. The two parts need to be taken together to be fully appreciated. Rumor has it that Tarantino is working on a single film version of Kill Bill that will edit together content of both films.

DVD extras: The DVDs are packaged separately. Each has a short featurette on the making of the film, and trailers. Volume 1 includes musical performances by The 5, 6,7, and 8s. Volume 2 includes a deleted scene and footage from the premiere.

Bottom Line: Kill Bill is Tarantino’s masterwork, at least so far. The film features many of his best inclinations (snappy dialogue, sympathetic villains, narrative complexity) and minimizes his worst ones (long rambling dialogue sequences, lack of substance).

Episode: #83 (January 29, 2006); Revised #253 (August 30, 2009)