I have a love-hate relationship with the films and public persona of Quentin Tarantino. Part of me is overjoyed that a trumped-up, slacker video store clerk could rise to the position of big-budget, kid-in-a-candy-store auteur. For the most part, I love his writing and directing styles, and even enjoyed his acting in From Dusk Till Dawn. He sometimes edges a bit too much into self-indulgent, homage-heavy, comic-book-styled extravagance for my tastes, and he seems to revel in his celebrity a bit more than will prove healthy in the long-term, in my opinion.
However, I can’t argue with the results demonstrated in Kill Bill: Vol. 2, and its predecessor Kill Bill: Vol. 1. In both installments he takes the action and violence to a point that is not just over-the-top, but transcendent. But in Vol. 2 we also get much more of the back-story and gain a deeper understanding of the characters and their actions. In fact, there are extended moments of quietly spoken dialogue that had me on the edge of my seat as much as, and in some cases even more than, the fight/action sequences.
And the cast all give incredible performances. Uma Thurman continues her Terminatrix-like rampage, but still manages to remain a vulnerable human being. Daryl Hannah makes a brief but explosive reappearance. Michael Madsen should only work on Tarantino films, as here he shows amazing depth as Bill’s shallow brother who also has more layers than we expect. Only Quentin Tarantino would think to cast Bo Svenson (yes, *that* Bo Svenson) as a small-town, West Texas preacher. For those of you who are asking, “Who the hell is Bo Svenson??!?”……..exactly my point.
And then there’s the quirky casting of Michael Parks. If you’ve seen From Dusk Till Dawn, Parks played the Texas Ranger at the convenience store near the beginning of the film. In Kill Bill: Vol. 1 he played the small-town Texas sheriff that investigates the chapel murders. And in Kill Bill: Vol. 2 he appears, effectively but almost unrecognizably, as Bill’s 80-year-old, Mexican, adopted, pimp, daddy-figure. Where in the world did Tarantino find him, and what compelled him (rightfully) to cast him in these films? Parks’ resume reads like a history of episodic television, including roles in The Real McCoys, Gunsmoke, Perry Mason, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Ben Casey, Wagon Train, Route 66, Medical Center, McCloud, Get Christie Love, Police Woman, Police Story, Baretta, The Rookies, Ellery Queen, Fantasy Island, The Equalizer, Murder She Wrote, Twin Peaks, and Walker Texas Ranger. I have to hand it to Tarantino for finding and casting Parks perfectly in his roles, although I think I have just answered my own question, knowing that Tarantino was an avid TV-viewer growing up.
Which brings us to David Carradine, who plays Bill. Yes, *that* David Carradine…most famously known as the peace-loving, wisdom-imparting, ass-kicking Kwai Chang Caine from the TV series Kung Fu. The David Carradine who has (sadly, and unbeknownst to me or anyone else I know) been making one or two unheralded, unseen, unknown, low-budget films a year for the last decade or so. The David Carradine who, had you asked me before seeing him in this movie, I would have said had a career that was over and that he was hanging onto the bottom rung. The David Carradine who, given his pedigree as a former kung fu star, seemed tritely cast as the leader of a gang of martial-arts assassins in this film.
But Mr. Carradine gives a career-saving performance here. His Bill is smart, funny, wise, lucid, dangerous, powerful, and sad. In fact, even though on the surface this appears to be the story of Uma Thurman’s character, it is the nearly omnipresent, nearly omnipotent Bill who is equally the focus of the movie, even when he’s not onscreen (such as during the entire running time of Vol. 1). Although I don’t think it will happen, and I’m not even sure it should, I will not be outraged if David Carradine receives an Oscar nomination for his performance, and I will be outraged if this does not resuscitate his career.
Carradine brings just the right amount of humanity and inhumanity to the character of Bill. So much so, in fact, that at the end, after all that he has done to Beatrix (Thurman’s character, who is finally named in this installment), I was still not sure if I wanted her to kill him, leave him alive, or stay with him. Any and all of the choices are grossly imperfect, which makes The Compleat Kill Bill the perfect tragedy. This may sound overblown, but there is a near-Shakespearian feel to the inevitable-ness of the story, in retrospect.
And so, Quentin Tarantino has done it again. This movie, even though it is an homage to kung fu and spaghetti western movies, is unlike anything you’ve seen on the screen. It is original and brash, but it isn’t avant-garde or stupid (or is that redundant?). Yes, it is very violent and gross, but there are very few films where a character will get the contents of a dip cup thrown in their face (ask your redneck cousin) or have their eyeball plucked out and squashed between toes, and it doesn’t seem gratuitous. Well, this is one of those films. Make sure you see Vol. 1 before seeing this one, though, because even though Vol. 2 could stand on its own as a film, it is much more powerful if you know the goings-on from Vol. 1. Moviegoers are also in an interesting position, because you should already know if you’re going to like this film, based on the first one. If you liked Kill Bill: Vol. 1 you’ll almost assuredly like Vol. 2 as well. If you hated Vol. 1, then I doubt Vol. 2 will do much for you. If you were unsure about Vol. 1, I urge you to see Vol. 2 and then judge the whole thing together as The Compleat Kill Bill.