Friday, December 18, 2009

Top Ten Films Of The Decade: Number 8: Kill Bill Volume 2

“Could you do what you did? Of course you could. But, I never thought you would or could do that to me.”

“I'm really sorry, Kiddo. But you thought wrong.”

Kill Bill Vol. 2 is a bloody valentine. A Valentine from a director to his muse, A Valentine to an icon given one last time to show the talent he never got a full chance to use, A Valentine to the pleasures of cinema itself, and finally in it’s final sequence one of the best and truest movies ever made about love.

Ebert observed of Inglorious Basterds that Tarantino is a director of “Quixotic delights” an expression that I could never improve on. Kill Bill 2 offers I believe the zenith oft his style, so full of the tactile pleasures of movie going. Filled with the electricity of someone knowing creatively exactly what to do in every single shot. So much of the effect comes from the way that Tarantino exploits the tangible pleasure of watching movies.

Which was exactly what the amazing in its own way Volume 1 was about. The beauty of the perfect split screen, the perfect black and white flashback, the perfect gore shot. The fact that he would make a film about such elements, is something that gets Tarantino labeled a shallow filmmaker, both by the his detractors like John “You’re Worse Then Hitler” Rosenbaum, but also by his defenders like Jim Emerson, who in his otherwise great analysis of Inglorious Basterds scoffed at the very idea that anyone would have an emotional reaction to Tarantino films.

But isn’t that emotional reaction arguably the greatest physical pleasure of movie going? Because that’s the thing; while Volume 1 is about the surface pleasures of cinema (though Volume 2 certainly has its share of that, particularly in the Kung Fu sequence with its filters and silhouettes, and the buried alive sequence with its horrifying aspect ratios, the great nod to Once Upon A Time In The West with Beatrix doing the Henry Fonda out of the desert) Volume 2 is unabashedly about Beatrix Kiddo.

Tarantino is not often talked about in terms of humanism, but that’s his greatest gift. Beyond all the clever boy dialogue, behind all the style behind all the ultra violence. Its The fact that Tarantino takes these absurd people and makes them real. Because he believes in them we also believe in them. Tarantino often smiles but he never winks. When his characters hearts are concerned he never jokes. When Bill and The Bride have their final talk about their relationship. Its not in quotes its real, we're fully invested in what will happen to them as people.

But lets back up for a moment and consider what leads us up to that final battle. While slower then its jacked up on sugary cereal predecessor, Kill Bill Vol. 2 is still one of Tarantino’s most purely entertaining movies. Its got set pieces that are just perfect, from the horrific Italian horror influenced Live Burial and the brutal Kung Fu training sequence facilitated by the magnificently cruel Gordon Liu to the brutal trailer fight which cannily tops the hand to hand house demolition that opened Volume 1.

The dialogue is some of Tarantino’s best (Not to mention Tarantino's other point of Pride the soundtrack, is also a career best with choice cuts of Ennio Morricone, Johnny Cash, Charlie Feathers, capped by Malcolm McLaren's haunting version of "About Her") from Madsen (in a career best performance) explaining to The Bride why its in her best interests to allow herself to be buried alive. To Daryl Hannah (Ditto) lolling her tongue around the word “Gargantuan” Tarantino even manages to coax an entertaining performance out of the loathsome Larry Bishop as an ultimate Asshole unaware that his shit talking might seriously endanger his life.

But really it all comes down to the two extended conversations that Kill Bill Vol. 2 begins and ends with. They take up nearly a third of the films runtime and are the keys to the film. In both the Bill and The Bride talk in lieu of fighting, the first time both are playing a game of concealment and the second time under the influence of The Absolute Truth. Both times slicing each other to shreds as surely as if they where using Hanzo steel.

Though I would never think of replacing Carradine I consider the almost casting of Warren Beatty as Bill to be one of the great cinematic what ifs. Not least of all because it’d be nice to have what is increasingly looking to be Beatty’s last film not be Town and Country. The difference I think is that Beatty would have been smoother, more cordial, better to mask his pain. Which is something Carradine simply cannot do. He’s charming here, but its painfully obvious its all a cover, he's charming because if he wasn't he'd be snarling. He’s a raw nerve here obviously trying with all his might not to put his hands around her throat there and then. And look at The Bride, nervous but not scared.

The scene is DePalma like in the way that it uses the cinema itself to generate suspense. We know more then both the characters in the scene. It’s a flashback for us, The Bride has no idea what Bill will and can do to her in a few moments, but we have full disclosure. Bill has no idea that he’s about to risk his unborn daughters life, and set in motion the chain of events that will eventually destroy him. But even if he did I doubt he would care. He’s hurting too much.

And that’s what Kill Bill Vol. 2 is really about the infinite ways that the one’s we love tear us apart. Its in every relationship in the movie, the way the love between Bill and Budd (“The only man I’ve ever loved.") has festered. The rage in Elle that comes from the knowledge that she is doomed to always be his “rebound girl”, never loved half as much as the woman who betrayed him. The love of a child that hit both The Bride and Bill at their most, possibly only, vulnerable spots. And finally the love between Bill and The Bride, which can only be expressed by ripping each other to shreds.

And isn’t that the appeal of the end of the movie? How many of us have dreamed of the ability to ask the question “Why?” knowing that we’d get a truthful answer. To say “I never thought you could do that to me.” And know that the other person will hear you. Our capacity to be hurt by and to hurt the ones we love always comes as a fresh surprise. We never quite develop the tolerance to that pain that we would like to have. Or grow the mercy we feel we should.

It ends as it must inevitably, from death brought on by a broken heart (of course). The tale of bloody revenge brought to its quite end in one of the most oddly moving scenes of the decade. Tarantino famously cheekily ended Inglorius Basterds with the line “I think this might be my masterpiece.” Almost Quentin, but you were too late, you made it five years ago.

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