Little late to this party but what the hell. I happen to have just seen Smokin’ Aces. Not bad. Not sure how Tarantinoesque it is, but I have some thoughts on the subject.
From the first time I saw Pulp Fiction and the buzz went into full swing, I’ve felt at odds with most Tarantino fans. They have always dwelled on the violence, the nonlinearness, the bad language, and the pop culture references. These things may have been popularized by QT, but they are far from the main interest in his movies. I think understanding Tarantino and his approach to genre takes understanding the difference between characters and plot. Cliche, yeah. But true.
For one, most post modern movies that try to ape Tarantino - movies about the genre; movies that reference themselves - result in cold clockwork. Smokin’ Aces is an example. The humanity has been left out of these movies for the most part, and the emotion, if present at all, is written as symbol. By that I mean the emotion is cliche - an image of the real thing but not the real thing. Tarantino does the opposite. Though his movies rely heavily on the trappings of the genre and even the genre types, QT’s one focus of realism is in the behavior of the characters. So when you journey through Vincent Vega’s story - truly the oldest story in the book - you are presented with genuine emotion. The situation is unlikely, but if it did happen, this is what it would be like to be in it. Most filmmakers give you the EFFECT or the EVENT. Tarantino skips over the EVENT and gives you the reaction - the emotion.
This approach also seems to inform the structure. An example is how Vincent Vega receives information necessary to the story and how we the audience receive it. The information comes as it does in life, through an anecdote, AFTER Vincent has agreed to go on the date. We find out when Vincent finds out that perhaps he shouldn’t have agreed to take the boss’s wife out on the town. A Tarantino imitator would have shown the story being told to Vincent, invoking the ever-present “show-don’t-tell” rule.
Lastly, QT’s approach dictates how events unfold. It’s easy to imagine how a lesser storyteller would get Butch back in his apartment to get his watch. Imagine a life-or-death movie situation where Butch has to get back to the apartment by such and such a time or a bomb goes off. Tarantino makes the situation emotionally real by making the situation real. Butch has this girlfriend who he told to get the important items from the apartment, and she forgot! Why? Because they haven’t been together that long and because reminding her simply slipped his mind. It happens.