Special Features – Does Quentin Tarantino need to grow up?

Anthony Stokes asks whether Quentin Tarantino needs to grow up…

As a kid in the mid 90s, I was largely unexposed to Quentin Tarantino.  I had heard about Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, but never had a chance to see them. My introduction to the man came years later with this really cool-looking movie called Inglourious Basterds.  I saw it and was blown away by its originality, dialogue, performances, and boldness.  It’s probably on the shortlist of films that made me want to get into film commentary.  I was drinking the kool-aid and thought Tarantino was god’s gift to cinema. So when I got home I watched Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction.  Both masterpieces in their own rights, I was blown away at how good the dialogue was and was happy to see the progression between the two, with Tarantino’s dialogue and characters improving with Pulp Fiction.  And then I saw Jackie Brown.  I won’t say that it was a bad movie, but I started to see the formula.  Take a sub genre, add in great dialogue in place of story and character development, cherrypick the best parts of the genre, remake it hyperstylized, and get accolades.

In hindsight, Jackie Brown was a wake up call, and where I realised this guy wasn’t as good as I’d thought he was. The once charming hyperstylization had really worn out its welcome and I was ready to see more progression.  But once Tarantino made the two-parter Kill Bill, that was the turning point for his career.  Kill Bill: Vol 1. is a really fun film that has great pacing, great characters and funny dialogue.  Kill Bill: Vol 2. is a masturbatory exercise in film school with monologues that are neither funny nor particularly well delivered by David Carradine, who couldn’t open his mouth without running on for minutes at a time.   And next up was Death Proof, which is the only Tarantino movie I’d describe flat out bad.  He made a return to form with Basterds and then made Django Unchained, which I thought was somewhere in  the middle of his filmography, although it still had some glaring issues people usually shy away from, such as the gratuitous usage of the n-word.

No other genre director has remained in Hollywood this long with this repetitive a formula.  While I’m not a big fan of his, Robert Rodriquez – who also could benefit from some maturing – branches out from his typical style, or at least applies his style to different kinds of films, such as the Spy Kids movies.  However, every Tarantino film is a collage of his previous work with a different genre as a back drop.  Once you’ve done something bold and innovative and go on to repeat this several times it’s no longer so bold and innovative any more and it’s time to find a new angle or approach. It’s clear from watching him that Tarantino is his own biggest fan. Seeing the way he talks about his movies – and, in fairness, all movies in general – he has this child-like excitement about them. But it’s obvious tthat Tarantino makes movies for himself and if he wasn’t recieving the accolades and praise he does I’m sure he would continue to make the movies he wants to make regardless.  And while idealistically there’s nothing wrong with that it leads to his films being extremely prententious and self-indulgent. 

Another thing that bothers me is his response to controversy.  When Spike Lee questioned Tarantino’s obsession with the n-word, he went off talking about how it’s racist to say he can’t use the n-word and it’s about his right as an artist. Nobody is saying he can’t use the n-word, but does he need to use it so gratuitously?  I thought it was funny in Pulp Fiction and even in Jackie Brown it had context but in Death proof it was simply too much.  And in Django it felt like his character sounded like a little kid cursing for the first time.  He could respond to the criticism like an adult but instead just gets defensive.  If he’s fascinated with the word he should make a documentary about it or explore it through film, rather than using it as much as possible and then act like a baby when people question him about it. And really, he only gets away with it because he’s Tarantino. If a Michael Bay movie had frequent use of the n-word, people would lose their minds, but because it’s Tarantino he uses it gratuitously and gets an Oscar.

And so we come to the whole leaked script situation regarding The Hateful Eight.  Now I understand Tarantino’s frustration, but to decide not make a movie because a script leaked reminds me of a kid losing at basketball and taking his ball home so nobody else can play.  If he wasn’t going to make the movie he could’ve just not made it, rather than making a big deal out of it. And furthermore if the script is pretty much dead, then why is he suing Gawker for providing download links to view the script? I’d understand if he planned on making the movie and Gawker actually went and leaked it online, but he’d already said himself he wouldn’t be making it.

So, this brings me to my point – does Tarantino need to grow up? I say yes.  We as a film community have allowed him to get away with things no other directors or writers would be allowed to get away with.  If Django Unchained had been written by Spike Lee do you think it would’ve won an Oscar?  The Best Original Screenplay category may as well be renamed “The Obligatory Quentin Tarantino Award”.  But more importantly his films need to mature. Nothing would make me happier then to see a non-genre movie from Tarantino. He is an incredible talent and by taking on board some legitimate criticism, he could make more Pulp Fictions and less Death Proofs.  I honestly don’t blame Tarantino for most of the flaws in his movies – I blame the critics.  If nobody complains, then why should he try to make better films?  Hopefully, at some point in the future before his retirement, we’ll see a more focused and refined Tarantino…

Anthony Stokes is a blogger and independent filmmaker who also assists with the music blog DopesterMusic and co-hosts the podcast Delusional Losers.

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  • Bradavon

    Good article, have thought this for some time.

    Dhango Unchained was fun but so incredibly self indulgent. Tarantino’s last serious film was nearly 20 years ago now, Jackie Brown which I like.

  • Corpus Dei

    Jackie Brown was his best movie. The Kill Bills were too much, despite what people say. But I think if Spike Lee wrote Django he would’ve won an oscar. Most of your critiscm seems like it’s trying to find a problem with Tarantino but can’t find one except you wish they weren’t genres. Cast away your pretentions and realize his movies are actually good.