‘I think this just might be my masterpiece’
A look at some of Tarantino’s greatest scenes
When Quentin Tarantino puts pen to paper, something special is never very far away. Over the course of his directorial career, Tarantino has written some of the most iconic dialogue ever put to screen and with the release of his new film – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – the promise of some juicy exchanges seems like a given.
At its heart, Once upon a Time in Hollywood is a swansong to everything Hollywood, exploring the age of the movie superstar. What better way to do this than with two icons of the modern age – Brad Pitt and Leonardo Di Caprio – providing the star power in Tarantino’s ninth directorial outing.
Neither actor is new to the world of Tarantino as both Pitt and DiCaprio have starred in Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained respectively. Both films are brilliant, containing some very Tarantino-esque dialogue. So, as anticipation builds for the release of Once upon a Time in Hollywood, I think now would be a fitting time to look back to the best scenes that Pitt and DiCaprio have performed under the tutelage of Tarantino, spurting dialogue which the Bard himself would have been proud of.
Back in 2009 Tarantino released Inglourious Basterds – a delightfully unique story about the Second World War, Nazi racism and retribution. While most directors would focus in on the historical facts of the conflict, Tarantino instead decided to rewrite history and to great effect, inventing a story about a small group of Jews that took the fight to the Nazis. Pitt’s character Lieutenant Aldo Raine is central to this as he leads an 8-man battalion of American-Jews to hunt Nazis. The first scene he appears in is perhaps his most memorable, as he gives a rallying cry to a group of potential candidates for the battalion.
The speech which ensues is pure Tarantino as Pitt wanders around with a thick Southern accent and even thicker moustache. As he walks, he calls into memory the Apache resistance and his intention to instil fear into a Nazi regime characterised by barbarism. This alone would make for a great scene but Tarantino’s mix of operatic dialogue with a sense of underlying comedy makes the moment even more memorable. Pitt’s performance elevates this as it never seems fully clear whether he is supposed to be taken seriously, especially when he demands that: ‘Each and every man under my command owes me one hundred Nazi scalps. And I want my scalps’. Throughout Raine’s speech there is something very perversely funny at play, which very few directors could pull off while also maintaining a high level of bravado.
Arguably the best scene in Django Unchained is one of its longest as we see Django (Jamie Foxx), assisted by perpetually jovial bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), dine with psychotic plantation owner Calvin Candie (DiCaprio). All three central players are played to perfection but this is DiCaprio’s moment. As Candy, he imbues a sense of unnerve from the moment the protagonists walk into his home. His racist demeanour slowly transforms into something more sinister, as he picks up a skull and starts stroking it, much like Blofeld in a Bond film. Slowly, Django’s ulterior motive for coming to Candy’s plantation – to free his enslaved wife – becomes apparent to Candy but this remains just below the surface. Tarantino’s script brilliantly builds the tension as the characters talk about their own lives; lying while trying to give nothing away.
The scene reaches its climax when DiCaprio’s Candy exposes Django’s lies, slamming his hand on the table while shouting the impervious line: ‘There have been a lot of lies said around this dinner table tonight’. While striking the table, DiCaprio cuts his hand but remains in character, ferociously wiping the blood across the face of Django’s wife. This moment of improvisation is both terrific and terrifying, illuminating the brilliance of DiCaprio.
As an outspoken aficionado of the western, Tarantino couldn’t resist ending the scene with a gunfight, resulting in the demise of Candy and Schultz. But it is the tension created around the dinner table which makes this conclusion all the more exciting, perfectly showcasing Tarantino’s knack for theatricality.
There is no doubt that Tarantino is a master scriptwriter but what is it that makes his scenes so great? It is his ability to write conversations about ordinary things like the dinner scene in Django Unchained, while tension slowly builds towards a shootout. It is also down to his ability to mix comedy and bravado so seamlessly. But fundamentally, Tarantino writes some of the most quotable dialogue ever and that makes him one ‘bad motherfucker’.