One of the biggest reasons for Quentin Tarantino’s success and acclaim is his use of dialogue throughout his many films. His dialogue is, for lack of a better term, unique.
It is often blunt and to the point, but will also take its sweet time to let the audience immerse themselves in the dialogue. Scenes from “Inglorious Basterds” seem to exist solely for the sake of dialogue, including one involving Mike Myers as a British military officer or a group of Nazis playing games and having some beers. While in other films, like “Kill Bill Vol. 2” the dialogue serves to punctuate dramatic moments and heighten the tension of the final showdown between the bride and Bill.
Often times, the dialogue acts as its own character of the story. It adds an air of grandiose and majesty to everything the characters do. Even the simple act of telling an anecdote, like in “Reservoir Dogs” seems more detailed and awe-inspiring with the dialogue that is used.
However, Tarantino’s use of dialogue might be his greatest strength, but it is also his greatest weakness.
It comes across like Tarantino puts so much focus on the lines and discussion in his films that he is blinded by it. Going back to “Inglorious Basterds” that scene with the Nazis goes on for what feels like twenty minutes. We watch these soldiers play their games and shot the breeze, but it ultimately does not add anything to the film. The majority of that scene could have been edited out of the film, and it would not have affected anything.
The story, pacing and characters of a Tarantino film often take a backseat to the dialogue. This is repeatedly becomes distracting and causes the film to fall apart after multiple viewings, especially with works such as “Jackie Brown” and “Kill Bill Vol. 2.”
Another problem is something that has been addressed by many other people, but is still a valid point: Do you know anyone who talks like a character in a Quentin Tarantino film? Because I don’t.
The dialogue in his films is sometimes unnatural and removed from reality. For example, most of the conversations between Jules and Vincent from “Pulp Fiction” don’t flow like real conversations. Their discussions might be funny and quirky, but they usually just exist for their own sake.
This would get even worse in later Tarantino films, when discussions would stop being relevant to the plot and just serve as a distraction from the rest of the film, with the key example being “Inglorious Basterds” and its many scenes of characters taking their time to get to any important details and plot points.
Dialogue should be there to support the story, foremost. Tarantino will use his lines and conversations as a distraction from the story. For this reason, it comes across like Tarantino’s dialogue is pretentious. Trying to be deep and thoughtful, when in reality it is superficial and distracting.
However, that does not mean his dialogue is not something to be admired. There are many times where his conversations hit just the right note, without going over the top or being underplayed. Many examples come from both “Reservoir Dogs” and “Django Unchained,” where there is a level of menace and danger to the story and the dialogue draws it out further, adding to the suspense.
I feel those two films are the best example of Tarantino as a filmmaker, as opposed to “Pulp Fiction” being a great example of him as a writer. In “Django Unchained” the story and characters are complimented by the dialogue and help to build a better sense of how this world works and who these people are. The discussions don’t drag on any longer than they need to and are relevant to story.
So, what does that say about Quentin Tarantino and his work? Does that mean his dialogue is bad or that his movies don’t hold up? Not at all.
While the way Tarantino’s characters talk may not be like anyone we know, that does not make it bad. Films are otherworldly and no one understand that better than Tarantino. His films are always removed from reality and so his is dialogue. It never attempts to be how we perceive ourselves, but how we wished we could talk.
There is something to be admired in work that is able to stand up thanks to its dialogue alone, made even more impressive when this type of dialogue changed the way we structure scenes. Many other filmmakers attempted to create the next “Pulp Fiction” or “Reservoir Dogs” but were never able to find a balance between quirky dialogue and sensible stories.
So while Tarantino’s dialogue may have its flaws, it is still wholly unique. When it is used properly, it can be both quirky and give a better sense of character. If used improperly, it can be distracting and bring other bigger problems to light. It is all about finding the right balance between the two, and Tarantino does that better than most filmmakers.