To celebrate QT’s 50th birthday, Ali Gray from ign.com countdown his greatest characters. Oscar-winning screenwriter, foot fetishist and shutter-down of butts, Quentin Tarantinoturns 50 this week; a birthday that ages all who remember him being labelled “the hottest young director in Hollywood”. Tarantino has gifted cinema dozens of classic characters in his half century, from Reservoir Dogs through Django Unchained – plus, of course, via movies he wrote, like True Romance and Natural Born Killers. It’s easy to forget the wealth of talent that has at some point agreed to be QT’s mouthpiece – Pitt! Clooney! Willis! De Niro! Oldman! – so whether or not the quality of Quentin’s output decreases as he begins the backslide into old age as he predicted, let’s just be grateful that for now, the Tarantino universe boasts an unforgettable cast of heroes, villains and everyone in between.
JUST BEWARE OF SPOILERS AHEAD…
First we have a quintessential single-serving Tarantino character: one scene, four minutes of dialogue and buckets of charisma. Koons, a decorated Vietnam vet, tells little Butch the story of how he and the young man’s father hid a watch up their asses for seven years. It could come off as crude, but Walken sells the scene with laser-beam intensity. http://go.ign.com/ZyMHGj
Impossibly glamorous with charm to spare, German film star Bridget is actually on the side of the good guys. A double agent working with British intelligence and the Basterds, von Hammersmark escapes with her life from the bloodbath at the La Louisianne tavern, but later dies at the hands of Hans Landa (technically the hands of Tarantino himself).
A cartoon character villain in essence, complete with her own unique weapon (a chain whip-cum-rope dart), O-Ren’s bodyguard Gogo makes a brief but memorable appearance in Kill Bill. First she disembowels a guy for making a drunken pass – her being 17 and all – then she engages in a scrap with The Bride, losing her life to a chair leg.
Permanently stoned and probably fused to his dirt-encrusted sofa, Dick’s horizontal roommate in True Romance is none other than mega star Brad Pitt in an early role. He might look like a useless, unkempt waste of space, but… well, he is. But once you’re out of earshot, he’ll tear you a new one: “Fuckin’ condescend me, man… I’ll fuckin’ kill you, man.”
A mystery wrapped in a riddle wrapped in studded tight leather, The Gimp resides in pawn shop owner Maynard’s basement – and we’re guessing he’s not dusting down there. Killed by his own kink, he’s hung out to dry when Bruce Willis‘ Butch wriggles free and cold-cocks him, leaving him hanging by his own leash. We bet he loved every second of it.
Frosty cool with an unflappable demeanour, Jackie Brown’s bail bondsman is that rare Tarantino creation: a quiet, reserved man who’ll use one word where most others use ten. That said, he’s still a textbook QT badass, teaming with Pam Grier‘s drug smuggler for the mother of all double-crosses. Also, he likes big butts.
Til Schweiger truly puts the ‘glorious’ in his Basterd as a defected German sergeant with a penchant for murdering Nazis in the sickest ways possible. Quickly recruited to the Basterds’ cause, Stiglitz is most notable for mercifully ending the epic La Louisianne face-off, giving Dieter Hellstrom a killer kiss-off: “Say auf Wiedersehn to your Nazi balls!”
One of five assassins on The Bride’s hitlist, the woman otherwise known as Copperhead is living a quaint suburban lifestyle when Beatrix Kiddo comes calling for revenge. The domestic scuffle between the two women sets the tone for the two volumes to come: bloody, brutal, backstabby and bitchy: “I should have been motherfucking Black Mamba!”
Opening Pulp Fiction with – you guessed it – a lengthy diatribe, this one about the relative safety of robbing banks over liquor stores, petty thieves Pumpkin and Honey Bunny (aka Ringo and Yolanda) eventually kick off the action by pulling out their guns and yelling: “Everybody be cool!” The rest of the movie duly complies.
It’s not difficult to see where Christian Slater‘s chancer Clarence gets his big clanging balls: his old man Clifford laughs in the face of death. With gangster Vincenzo Coccottinursing a bullet with his name on it, Worley Sr at least exits this life with a smile, spending his last minutes on Earth insulting his killer’s DNA: “You’re part eggplant!”
40. Louis Gara (Robert De Niro) – Jackie Brown
Feckless criminal Louis is the antithesis of the gangsters Robert De Niro usually plays. Slow-witted but quick to anger after Bridget Fonda‘s sun-worshipper mocks his manhood, Louis shoots his partner in crime in a parking lot and ends up suffering the same fate at the hands of Sam Jackson’s heavy. De Niro bad at crime? Who’d have thought it!
Tarantino’s token cameos in his own movies tend to draw focus, given that they’re usually awful, but we’ll forgive him his turn in Reservoir Dogs. Mr Brown opens the film, and indeed Quentin’s entire career, with a discussion on the meaning of Madonna‘s ‘Like A Virgin’; apparently it’s a metaphor for large penises. So now you know.
Fassbender’s Basterd is perhaps the coolest of the bunch, thanks mostly to his cut-glass English accent and his love of good scotch. He’s also handy with white lies, spinning a convincing yarn about his upbringing to throw off a nosey Nazi – alas, he was three fingers away from avoiding the stickiest of pickles. Nonetheless: damn good stuff, Sir.
“I’m Winston Wolf. I solve problems.” Not only does Pulp Fiction’s fixer possess the unnerving ability to bend space and time, travelling a distance that should take 30 minutes in ten, The Wolf is a man capable of un-screwing any situation, lickety split. He also dresses like he’s en route to his own wedding.
“Your so-called Kung fu is really quite pathetic!” Pai Mei is a stern teacher indeed, but he’s earned the right to insult his students, what with being able to use his beard and his crotch as a weapon. Creator of the infamous Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique, Pai Mei will have you writhing in agony while he’s stroking his moustache and laughing.
ATF agent Ray Nicolette is one of Elmore Leonard’s good guys, later popping up in Out Of Sight – one of those rare occasions in which the same character appears in two separate movies. Ray shines brightest in Jackie Brown, turning Pam Grier‘s stewardess onto Sam Jackson’s villain Ordell. Few men can wear black leather as effectively asMichael Keaton.
In the media circus of life, they were the main attraction: lovers Mickey and Mallory knew the value of a good killing spree, and milked the attention for everything it was worth. Two of Tarantino’s most despicably heartless characters, you still find yourself rooting for them – that’s the strength of Quentin’s writing in action.
Gary Oldman pulled off his chameleon act once more in his role as True Romance’s racially-befuddled pimp, rocking dreads, gold teeth, a cloudy eye and a stormy temper. “It ain’t white boy day, is it?” he asks, unaware that every day is white boy day for him. Still, perhaps Drexl can take solace in the fact his name is worth a hundred points in Scrabble.
Leo DiCaprio’s cackling madman Calvin Candie is the obvious villain in Django Unchained, but there’s something even more insidious about his house slave Stephen; a man who’s seemingly turned his back on his entire race. He won’t take his eyes off Django and Broomhilda, and in turn, you can’t take your eyes off him.
Every QT cameo has an element of wish fulfilment, but none moreso than in Tarantino’s vampire thriller. Quentin’s serial killer Richie drinks tequila from the long leg of snake-fondling exotic dancer Santanico, right before she morphs into a hellbeast and kills him. Totally worth it, as brother George Clooney yells: “Now that’s what I call a fuckin’ show!”
30. Donny Donowitz (Eli Roth) – Inglourious Basterds
Possessor of possibly the coolest entrance scene in all of Tarantinoland, you hear The Bear Jew before you see him, bashing his baseball bat off the underpass walls to intimidate his prey. Eventually he emerges, grinning, knowing full well he’s going to hit a home run and spray the rest of the Basterds with Nazi brain. And the crowd go wild!
Another Deadly Viper on The Bride’s to-do list, O-Ren gets the most fleshed out of Kill Bill’s back-stories: orphaned by the Yakuza, she exacts revenge, becomes a master assassin and heads a Tokyo crime syndicate, complete with her own Crazy 88 army. Alas, she can’t best The Bride in blade-to-blade combat, tasting the steel of her Hanzo sword.
We’re first introduced to the back of crime boss Marsellus’ head as he gives boxer Butch his orders. The front is no less intimidating; Rhames gives Pulp Fiction its greatest presence with his gargantuan frame and deep voice. When he threatens to “get medieval” on the asses of the men that raped him, you’re grateful he spares the grislier details.
This hooker gives True Romance its heart of gold. Call girl by trade, she packs in the prostitution after meeting devoted Elvis fan Clarence, marrying him the very next day. The wrath they face from assorted pimps, gangsters and hitmen is horrendous, but Alabama makes it all worthwhile. Who wouldn’t snap up a girl who loves Kung fu movies?
Perennially decked out in the finest casual tracksuits the 90s could offer, Nice Guy Eddie is the only Reservoir Dog not to be given a coloured codename, given that he’s the son of the heist organiser, Joe. That family connection is the reason he’s so cocksure of himself, but daddy can’t protect him in the Mexican stand-off to end all Mexican stand-offs.
Tarantino gave stuntwoman Zoe Bell her first big break – as herself. Quentin’s half of Grindhouse saw Bell prove that she was the one who was Death Proof as she shackled herself to the bonnet of her girlfriends’ car for shits and giggles. Stuntman Mike attempted to make her death-wish a reality, but you can’t frighten a girl with no fear of dying.
Along with Mr Wolf, Earl McGraw and his son Edgar are the only characters that can traverse between Tarantino’s ‘Realer than real’ universe and his ‘Movie movie’ universe – that’s why you’ll see him pop up in Death Proof, From Dusk Till Dawn and Kill Bill. Each time, Parks’ sheriff brings the same tobacco-chewing grit to the role: he is the law.
The real big bad in True Romance, Coccotti is the most charismatic of criminals. Fully aware his reputation precedes him, Sicilian sleaze Vincenzo introduces himself as “the anti-Christ” and gets more intimidating from there on in. Catch him in a vendetta kinda mood and he’ll waste you, but not without sharing a Walken-esque laugh with you first.
Sporting a gob of yellow teeth and a wardrobe of the best duds 19th century Mississippi affords, Candie is a chilling villain indeed. The plantation owner makes his slaves fight to the death for fun, like a child playing with his toys – those that escape, he hunts down with dogs. Django learns the hard way: you never take away a spoilt child’s toys.
“In the fifth, your ass goes down.” Except boxer Butch ain’t nobody’s bitch. Fleeing from the scene after accidentally killing his opponent in the ring, Coolidge is still the closest thing Pulp Fiction has to a good guy. Butch later embraces his bloodlust by slicing and dicing his would-be rapists, who couldn’t have picked a worse guy to screw with.
Mr Pink is a quibbler. He’s not happy with his codename; he’s insecure enough to suggest ‘Mr Purple’. He doesn’t tip; apparently “the words ‘too fucking busy’ shouldn’t be in a waitress’ vocabulary’”. He is, however, an utmost professional, and come Reservoir Dogs’ cordite-scented climax, Mr Pink is the only man smart enough to escape with his life.
When you absolutely positively have to kill every mother in the room? Ordell Robbie is your villain. A gun-runner extraordinaire and a devious bastard to boot, he’s also the owner of Sam Jackson’s funkiest facial hair to date; a braided goatee which you suspect no one has ever survived mocking. Bad to the bone.
There’s more than a hint of Tarantino about hero Clarence, the fast-talking, Elvis-imagining lover of Kung fu flicks. Upon meeting love-of-his-life Alabama in a movie theatre, Worley moves heaven and earth to ensure their union – drug deals, shoot-outs and a room full of pimp corpses are a small price to pay for true romance. It’s what The King wanted after all.
Of all Tarantino’s movie cameos, Richie Gecko is the most significant, and the weirdest by quite a long margin. The sick and twisted brother to George Clooney‘s tattooed outlaw, little Richie can’t even be trusted to look after a hostage without splaying her guts all over the bedsheets. This is as creepy and perverse as Tarantino gets.
Revenge is a dish best served cold, or if you’re war survivor Shosanna, a dish best served roasted and marinaded in Nazi blood. Narrowly avoiding being massacred, she sets her sights high and with the help of the Basterds, brings down Hitler and his Third Reich with a fiery massacre of her own, set – where else? – in a movie theatre.
His name is White, but even he can’t make a clean getaway. A white knight of sorts to the fatally-wounded Mr Orange after their diamond heist went pear-shaped, White shows himself to be loyal to a fault. Stoic and composed, Keitel’s criminal displays chinks of humanity that the rest of the Reservoir Dogs fill with greed.
With a wit only as sharp as her bob, Mrs Mia Wallace is a very modern gangster’s moll: a livewire thrill-seeker whose actions are even more irresponsible than her husband’s. If you ignore the overdose, she’s a delightful dinner companion, able to alleviate any awkward silences and capable of tearing up the dance floor. Just remember: look but don’t touch.
The coolest of Bill’s hit squad, Elle Driver also has the nattiest accessory: a patch covering the gaping socket from whence Pai Mei pulled her eye. A direct rival with The Bride for the affections of their master, the trailer tussle between them is a super-charged cat-fight. Alas, she loses and ends up another eye down, but out? We wouldn’t count on it.
Head Basterd and Apache descendant Aldo is in the killing Nazi business, and friend, business is booming. Each and every man under his command owes him one hundred Nazi scalps, and they duly deliver: Lt Raine’s campaign of fear ends up helping turn the tide in Tarantino’s alternate take on World War II. Long may Aldo reign.
A bounty hunter par excellence, Tarantino’s Dr King is also a righteous campaigner for racial equality, teaming up with ex-slave Django to free his wife from tyrannical rule. A man of tall tales and multiple coats, Schultz is a sharp-shooter but a sharper dresser. Above all, King is a man of principle, even when it costs him the ultimate price.
Tim Roth spent half the filming of Reservoir Dogs covered in blood and making wailing guttural noises, but it was worth it to convey the damage and suffering a single bullet can cause. An undercover cop all along, he was a wolf in Dog’s clothing, but he should have known better: as in The Godfather, the colour orange was to be the death of him.
Kung fu master, expert swordsman and excellent sandwich maker, Bill was nonetheless destined to be killed the moment he pulled the trigger on his pregnant Bride. “Do you find me sadistic?” he asks, proving over the course of two movies that he’s no Samaritan. Climatically, he dies a fitting death: The Bride explodes his black heart.
John Travolta pulled a dramatic career U-turn as Vincent Vega, the icy calm at the centre of Pulp Fiction’s manic universe. Whether shooting up or shooting perps, Vincent remains the picture of coolness, even when he’s on brain detail or administering a shot of adrenaline to a prone Mia’s chest. Travolta’s career would recover almost as swiftly.
Nowhere is Tarantino’s love of blaxploitation cinema more evident than in Jackie Brown. His heroine, Pam Grier, is a blaxpolitation legend in her own right (Foxy Brown, Coffy etc), and her stewardess/smuggler checks in that baggage to her advantage. Expertly playing off the cops and the criminals, Jackie is one of the baddest asses in Tarantino’s oeuvre.
The ‘D’ is silent, but Django’s payback was anything but quiet: off the freakin’ chain thanks to Dr King Schultz, Jamie Foxx’s slave-turned-slayer was a man on a mission. Crucially though, it wasn’t pure vengeance driving him but the love of his woman, making Django one of the most well-rounded and sympathetic Tarantino characters yet.
The role that introduced Christoph Waltz to Hollywood – and to Oscar – Hans Landa is a once-in-a-lifetime part: a comic-book bad guy with a silver tongue and a nasty streak a mile wide – a bastard among Basterds. Waltz gave him character to spare, plus a childlike outlook on some very adult situations. As Landa himself would say: “That’s a bingo!”
“Are you gonna bark all day, little doggie? Or are you gonna bite?” Of all the Reservoir Dogs – none of whom are remotely puppy-like – Blonde is the blackest of the black: a man for whom torture is an activity to be set to music. Madsen nails the queasy tone, adding style and swagger to ear-slicing sadism, becoming Tarantino’s most vicious villain to date.
It’s tough to define cool, particularly in a Tarantino movie that’s cooler than a deep freeze, but hear this: Jules Winnfield is the coolest cat of all. A Bible-spouting, burger-eating, jheri-curled hitman, every syllable the man utters is quotable and every look he gives could stop you in your tracks. Sam Jackson’s sparkling performance makes Jules a cinematic gem.
Introduced via the dulcet tones of Nancy Sinatra’s ‘Bang Bang’, we first meet Beatrix Kiddo at her most vulnerable: pregnant, beaten, shivering and at the mercy of her former lover, she’s staring down the barrel of a gun that’s about to go off. Thus begins the epic journey of The Bride, who never made it down the aisle: left for dead by Bill, she miraculously survives – her unborn baby too – purely so she can embark on what Tarantino calls “a rip-roaring rampage of revenge”.
Beatrix Kiddo is unlike any other Quentin character, in that her arc spans two movies – room enough for Uma Thurman to create Tarantino’s most relatable hero yet. Showing a much broader range than we might have expected from the star of Even Cowgirls Get The Blues, Thurman – whom her director called “my Dietrich” – is astounding in the central role. Tarantino’s zig-zag narrative throws The Bride all over the emotional map, tossing her from heartbreaking loss to heart-racing action in a matter of minutes, but Uma is more than up to matching the colossal task at hand.
Volume 1 sees her channel Bruce Lee via his yellow jumpsuit and his ‘take on all comers’ attitude, memorably cutting the Crazy 88s into eighths. If the first movie had an Eastern vibe, Volume 2 cast Kiddo as a gunslinger in her very own Western, tasting the bitter dirt like every outlaw should as she escapes being buried alive. It’s The Bride’s second resurrection and typical of a character who doesn’t know when to die – a vengeance-seeking, justice-dealing, Bill-killing girl who just wants to live the life that was so savagely taken from her. That she succeeds is no surprise – the clue’s in the title after all – but The Bride remains Quentin Tarantino‘s greatest character to date. Great work, Kiddo.