Pop 5: Quentin Tarantino Characters

jason stives and bill bodkin have a royale with cheese…

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In 24 hours (or so), Quentin Tarantino’s latest cinematic adventure, Django Unchained will finally be released to American audiences. Tarantino is one of the few directors in today’s Hollywood landscape that can excite audiences by his name alone. And it’s for perfectly good reasons — throughout his career he’s created some of the most memorable films filled to the brim with some of the most fascinating characters to ever grace the silver screen.

So in honor of Django’s release, Pop-Break’s Bill Bodkin and Jason Stives look at their favorite Quentin Tarantino characters of all-time.

Mr. White/Larry (Harvey Keitel): Reservoir Dogs

In his earliest films Tarantino chose to avoid the heavy character development and basically rely on the actors to breathe an aura into the characters he put to paper. Save for a few flashbacks and bits of dialogue back stories were never emphasized for every major player and to me Mr. White was the best character in Reservoir Dogs because he had no story to tell. You learn just from his mannerisms and are actions what kind of a person Mr. White is and it’s a testament to Harvey Keitel as an actor that he could find a balance between sympathy and cool bloodedness.

It’s not like White displays many bad guy tendencies other than shooting up some cops but the fact is he is a criminal with the same agenda as his nameless cohorts. I especially found something particularly strong about the relationship between White and Mr. Orange, Tim Roth’s undercover cop character who spends most of the movie bleeding to death on the floor of the hideout. Considering all the trouble White goes through to convince the rest of the crew that Orange is innocent and needs help it’s a crushing blow to watch White face the realization that Orange has been lying to him in those final moments of the film.

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Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson): Pulp Fiction

In all of his BAMF-tastic roles (BAMF = Bad Ass Mother F’er), Samuel L. Jackson has never been better than his original badass character, Jules Winnfield. While many gush over John Travolta’s comeback performance as Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction, it’s really Samuel L. Jackson who had the bigger career moment . Since the release of the film in 1994, Samuel L. has literally been everywhere and done everything — cellphone pitchman, narrator extradonaire, John Shaft, Nicky Fury and Tarantino film regular.

Yet, no role will ever touch his role as the jerry curled Jules. The opening scenes of Pulp Fiction rife with pop culture banter with Travolta is pure gold and it typifies the brilliance of Tarantino’s construction of dialogue.

However, the real magic happens once he enters the apartment of those who’ve stolen from his boss, Marcellus Wallace. The furious anger with which he stalks around the room, chewing scenery, is brilliant. He’s like a pitbull, foaming at the mouth, held on such a short leash, you’re afraid he’s going to be let go and rip your throat out. The bit with the Big Kahuna burger and soda to wash it down is comedic genius and adds even more tension which is nearly excruciating at this point.

The brilliance of Jules Winnfield however doesn’t end there. His conversion to the way of the righteous is completely unexpected and it’s awe-inspiring to watch. His back-and-forth with Tim Roth is awesome. Jackson’s cool, steely reserve is the perfect foil to Roth’s sweaty, hyper-caffeinated diner thief. It’s the fact that Tarantino went this extra mile to make Jules find religion, truly find it, instead of just espousing it to sound cool before he kills someone … that makes Jules such a memorable character. He could really have stopped and just made Jules a killer and he still would’ve been good, but to take him to a whole other level makes him legend. –BB

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The Bride (Uma Thurman): Kill Bill
For a long time I’ve always been 50/50 about Uma Thurman’s ability as an actress. While yes, she has had her share of good roles, she was also responsible for some really poor film choices in my movie going years (Batman & Robin, The Avengers) so as a lead in a Tarantino film where she isn’t playing Mia Wallace felt like a gamble to me back when Kill Bill was released in 2003.

However, Thurman’s portrayal as Ms. Beatrix Kiddo aka the Bride is an emotional journey that is orchestrated in the most moving ways. This is where I feel Tarantino really explores his options on character development and I think a lot of that has to do with his previous films featuring mainly ensemble casts with varying character types (Jackie Brown shows some character arcs but not much). With Kill Bill, Tarantino creates this beautiful homage to kung fu/samurai films of the seventies but also laces it with other genres and with the story being broken up into two parts we are afforded the chance to get to know The Bride.

Some of the more physical moments of the film feel like the hardest punches an audience member can face whether it’s watching the Bride rise out of her hospital bed after being in a coma for years or when she is training with wood and watching her knuckles bleed. Of course it isn’t just about the physical elements it’s the emotional ones and watching a woman torn from the possibilities of happiness and motherhood by people she trusted instantly connects you with the character making the concept of revenge in this story the most punctual and necessary. –JS

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Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt): Inglorious Basterds

Brad Pitt as a Southern-fried, part Apache-American lieutenant in charge of a scalp-hunting unit of (mostly) Jewish-American soldiers, only works in a Quentin Tarantino world constructed by Quentin Tarantino. The whole concept might sound silly, in fact Brad Pitt may even sound silly in the movie, but for some reason it just works.

And, again, that’s the brilliance of QT — he’s able to make the absurd and outrageous completely believable and completely plausible. This role could’ve been such a cheeseball character, but Pitt, much like he did with fast-talking Pikey, Mickey in Guy Ritchie’s Snatch, owns it with his entire being. He’s not playing “Brad Pitt” as he has done in the past — he’s completely immersed in the role and looks like he’s having a blast at doing it.

Of course, his best scene is our introduction to he and The Basterds, where he demands his “scalps.” However, we’d be remiss in not mentioning his scene in the movie theater lobby with Hans Landa, where he pretends to be an Italian and says “Gratzie” in his thick Southern drawl. Classic. –BB

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Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz): Inglorious Basterds
Now here was a character I could really sink my teeth into. Dating back to Gangs of New York I always admired bad guys in films who are so well acted and so well written that you can’t help but like them.

While I’m sure there are varying opinions about Inglorious Basterds, to me, it was a film 10 years in the making well spent waiting for. Growing up on a healthy dose of World War II films this reminded me so greatly of those movies from my youth except with the Tarantino twist of brilliant long standing scenes of dialogue that those films could never produce.

So for me the introduction scene of Colonel Landa’s at the film’s opening was perfect in every way. The thing that makes Christoph Waltz portrayal so unlike most Nazis bad guys is Landa has a hidden agenda that goes far beyond exterminating the Jews. In fact, I would go as far as to say that Landa doesn’t care about committing genocide as much as he is about being great. Many of the characters of this film focus on sharing a legacy to their involvement in World War II and Landa is really just going about his business and getting rewarded for it because his title matters more than any notion of hatred or obeying orders. It’s also quite remarkable to watch Waltz go all over the map in his moods. In that opening scene he does such a great job of just going about with parliamentary proceedings in locating the missing Jewish family that when you realize he has dooped this poor farmer into revealing that he is hiding the family under his floor boards it’s almost startling.

There is also that underlying bit of humor that Tarantino throws into a lot of his characters and Landa definitely gets his share of unintentional laughs and I mean, c’mon, who didn’t laugh at the Colonel’s exclamation of “That’s a Bingo!” –JS

Founded in September 2009, The Pop Break is a digital pop culture magazine that covers film, music, television, video games, books and comics books and professional wrestling.