Editor’s Note: The following review is part of our coverage of TIFF’s fall film series Beyond Badass: Female Action Heroes. For more information, visit tiff.net and follow TIFF on Twitter at @TIFF_NET.
Separating Kill Bill into two parts was probably the hardest decision to make for writer/director Quentin Tarantino yet the easiest to execute. While the film works brilliantly together (watching vols. 1 and 2 back to back), they also work as two separate films. Each part has a different tone and pace that while they don’t differ to distraction while being viewed together, when watched separately it feels like volume 2 was a sequel that was conceived after volume 1 was a big hit then the director decided to go in a different direction. In truth, the samurai and kung-fu films that influenced these films were themselves versions of the American western and the spaghetti western (westerns made by Italian directors, normally with international casts) were variations on the American western as well. It’s this rooting genre that ties these two halves of a whole together yet also separates them as individual films.
Tarantino’s writing is again top notch here as he develops each character fully and with relish.
The story picks up with The Bride (Uma Thurman) driving toward Bill’s (David Caradine) catching us up on the events of volume 1. Through this, we learn more about the massacre, as in it was a wedding rehearsal and not the actual wedding and why it was performed in the first place. Turns out, when The Bride found out she was pregnant, she disappeared, breaking Bill’s heart. He then went looking for the people he presumed killed her, since her death was the only reason he could think of that would keep her from coming back to him.
We also get The Bride’s encounter with Budd (Michael Madsen), Bill’s brother and former member of the same assassination squad she was with and her confrontation with Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah), the final member of the hit squad and The Bride’s chief rival. She makes her way through them and locates Bill so she can finally end her “roaring rampage of revenge”.
Tarantino changes gears for this volume and slows it down quite a bit. The frenetic pace of the first film reached a fever pitch and now we take this volume, longer in run time, to come down from it. He eases us through the film by working on backstory and character development instead of high-concept action set pieces. In volume 1, we got to see what The Bride is capable of and in volume 2 he wants us to get to know her, how she became able to do what we saw her accomplish in volume 1 and why she chose to run away from Bill in the first place, sparking this entire tragic story.
Tarantino doesn’t get rid of the action though. He fills the film with grueling training at the hands of Pai Mei (Gordon Parks, who played the leader of the Crazy 88’s in the first volume) and a knock-down, drag-out fight in a trailer between Elle and The Bride, which Tarantino said in interviews promoting the film that during filming of this fight he saw The Jackass Movie and realized he could make this fight ‘grosser’, so instead of opting for a grand swordfight between two very deadly women, he opted for them throwing each other around Budd’s trailer, hitting each other with TV antennae and throwing cans of Budd’s chewing tobacco spittle. All this leads up to the final confrontation with Bill, which also subverts expectations but is still satisfying.
The stand out of all stand outs though is Caradine. His performance here is the single best of his career, even according to him.
Tarantino’s writing is again top notch here as he develops each character fully and with relish. We get to know more about Bill and how he recruited The Bride and his motivation to do what he ultimately did to her (“I…overreacted”) and reveal what should have been the ultimate secret of the film, the fact that The Bride’s daughter is still alive and being raised by bill, but that was spoiled in favor of a cliffhanger ending to volume 1 (one of the biggest reasons the film should not have been halved).
To make this dialogue work, Tarantino needed people that could actually say it, which is likely harder to do for him than with most writer/directors. Uma Thurman continues her career performance as The Bride, delivering her lines with a level of believability so high that you’d almost believe she was the world’s deadliest woman. Hannah thankfully has much more to do in this volume and does it blissfully. She’s never been better than she is as Elle. In a film replete with career performances, she not only gives one too, but she manages to stand out too. She plays Elle as equal parts crazy and competent, a deadly combination. She’s clearly having fun with the role and she uses that to get inside Elle in ways she really never has with other characters.
The stand out of all stand outs though is Caradine. His performance here is the single best of his career, even according to him. The scene he shares with Thurman on the porch of the El Paso church while Bill recounts his side of the story is simply amazing. It’s the best scene in this volume and one of the best in Kill Bill on the whole. He adds to Bill’s mystique while telling the Legend of Pai Mei and his extended scene at the end, talking to The Bride, getting answers from her, letting her play with their daughter and eventually fighting her is the stuff of legends. Caradine proves that he’s always been better than all those Z-grade parts in Z-grade movies that he’s been forced to take over the years and shows that he should have been regarded as one of our greatest actors, but the parts just weren’t there for him.
With Kill Bill vol. 2, Quinten Tarantino fulfills the promise he made with Kill Bill vol. 1 and delivers The Bride’s vengeance and our satisfaction. The shift in tones makes some people convinced that splitting the original 4-hour film into two parts was a wise decision and maybe it was. Each part stands on its own and each are equally entertaining. Until we see the fabled and long rumored complete cut, Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair (if we ever do), we’ll never truly know how it would work all cut together. We can play them back to back (as I always do) but I get the sense that’s not the same. As it stands, Kill Bill vol. 2 is just as worthy as standing next to Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill vol. 1 as one of Tarantino’s masterpieces (a list that seems to grow each time he makes a film) and deserves individual praise as much as it does the praise it receives when paired with Kill Bill vol. 1.
As it stands, Kill Bill vol. 2 is just as worthy as standing next to Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill vol. 1 as one of Tarantino’s masterpieces (a list that seems to grow each time he makes a film) and deserves individual praise as much as it does the praise it receives when paired with Kill Bill vol. 1.