After Jackie Brown (1997) acclaimed gangster Director Quentin Tarantino seemed to disappear from public view and Hollywood. However, in 2003 he came back with a bang (or a slash) with this excellent martial arts revenge tale.
The film follows Beatrix Kiddo (Uma Thurman), who wakes up from a four year coma, the lone survivor of a massacre at her wedding rehearsal by the assassins she worked with, with only one thing on her mind - revenge. Beatrix then writes her hit list, containing the names of her Deadly Viper Squad, and their boss and the mastermind behind the massacre - Bill (David Carradine). This leads to her going overseas to receive a new sword and find the members of her hit list in what becomes a series of deadly and bloody events.
Part revenge tale, part martial arts masterpiece, and part bloody slasher (it's Tarantino, there's almost always rivers of blood), this is the last film Tarantino made before he (in my view) went down hill: Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004) being a three star film, which felt rushed and anti-climactic compared to this predecessor; Death Proof (2007) being an altogether sloppy and dragged piece of two star film making; and Inglorious Basterds (2009) being a three star film that felt disjointed, and lost my approval for the rewriting of history - I don't cut any slack for James Cameron and the inaccuracies he brought to screen with Titanic (1997), so I couldn't in good conscience cut Tarantino any slack.
Cleverly crafted together, Beatrix's emotional arc tells an emotionally driven story of one woman against all odds to avenge. Thurman gives a dynamite performance as this driven, passionate woman, making her hate for her former allies so heartfelt, but also tugs at the heartstrings as she grieves for those who she has lost - especially her (assumably) unborn child. The audience is drawn in by her as we see her fight with passion, and Thurman truly steals the show. Easily her strongest co-star in this installment is Lucy Liu as O-Ren Ishii, who makes the martial arts queen cold-hearted, sinister and very authoritive in a very powerful and attention grabbing performance.
The film is also beautifully choreographed from start to end, but no scene more so than Beatrix's fight with O-Ren's armies, in which she takes out dozens of sword-wielding henchmen. Featuring beautiful cinematography which really captures the beauty and grace of a skilled martial artist, a tense sequence shot in black-and-white, and vivid use of bloody colours, this is possibly the best scene in the entire film, and won't let the viewer's attention quiver for a second.
Visually beautiful, yet gritty, with a dynamite cast cleverly crafted together with a strong narrative, this is one of Tarantino's best films to date - not quite on the same level as Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994), but still a powerful piece of film making that one won't be forgetting in a hurry.
Stars: Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, David Carradine, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, Julie Dreyfus, Sonny Chiba, Chiaki Kuriyama, Gordon Liu, Michael Parks, James Parks, Michael Bowen, Jun Kunimura, Sakichi Sato.
BAFTA nominations: Best Actress (Uma Thurman), Best Editing (Sally Menke), Best Visual Effects (Tommy Tom, Tam, Kai Kwan, Wai Kit Leung, Wong Hin Leung, Jaco), Best Sound (Michael Minkler, Mark Ulano, Myron Nettinga, Wylie Stateman).