One of the reasons Quentin Tarantino is such a revered figure for people who'd never think of renting a Jean-Luc Godard film is that his career and personal mythology underline just how permeable the line separating fans from filmmakers can be. Tarantino's work as a writer-director often feels like an extension of his role as a movie lover—especially in last year's Kill Bill: Volume 1, his first film in six years, and a genre-mixing dream come true for cinephiles and trash-culture lovers alike.
The chronologically scrambled tale of an unnamed wedding-dress-clad woman (Uma Thurman) who seeks bloody revenge on David Carradine, who sent his hired goons to kill her, Volume 1 marked both a progression and regression from Tarantino's previous work. Gone for the most part were the showy monologues, pop-culture references, leisurely pace, and hang-out-movie vibe of Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown. But there was plenty of new stuff to take its place, most notably an endless string of brilliantly staged, heavily stylized fight scenes involving Thurman's ass-kicking anti-heroine, who was a little like '70s-era Pam Grier reborn in the body of a skinny white girl.
Kill Bill: Volume 2 has a lot to live up to. It needs to meet the lofty expectations awaiting any new Tarantino film, but it also has to deliver the emotionally satisfying ending that its predecessor by definition couldn't. The film succeeds by expertly melding the two stages of Tarantino's career. The rambling Tarantino of Jackie Brown and Pulp Fiction is evident in every lovingly crafted and delivered monologue, each leisurely paced scene and long take. The more action-oriented, fight-intensive Tarantino reappears in the viscerally exciting bursts of ultra-violence that punctuate the stretches of dialogue. At the film's emotional core is the complicated relationship between Thurman and her mentor/lover/father-figure Carradine, which is as tender as any relationship can be between two people who go to great lengths to try to kill each other.
Actors, especially B-movie actors, never seem more like larger-than-life figures than when they're reflected in Tarantino's adoring eyes. Where others might look at a Carradine or Daryl Hannah—who gives a revelatory performance as an eye-patch sporting assassin—and see a pair of washed-up actors whose latest films tend to surface only on TV or at Blockbuster, Tarantino sees a pair of icons just waiting for that crucial role that will remind the youth-obsessed culture how great they can be. And, because Tarantino is such a gifted director of actors, his faith in the performers he salvages becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If Mel Gibson hadn't been so intent on torturing Jesus for two hours, Thurman's preternaturally resilient bride would walk away with the title of Most Abused Movie Character Of 2004, though she gives as good as she gets. Like Gibson, Tarantino believes strongly and sincerely in redemption, but in his B-movie gospel, that redemption has a funny way of leading to David Carradine rather than Jesus Christ.