Kill Bill: Volume 2. Miramax Films presents a film directed by Quentin Tarantino. Written by Tarantino and Uma Thurman. Running time: 136 minutes. Rated R (for violence, language and brief drug use). Starring Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Daryl Hannah, Michael Madsen, Gordon Liu, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Quentin Tarantino (voice).

Kill Bill: Volume 2

When Miramax decided to split Quentin Tarantino's epic Kill Bill into two halves I was angry. I thought it was clearly about making more money, forcing people to pay twice to see what should have been essentially one movie. Kill Bill: Volume 1 was great, exhilerating cinema, but it felt unfinished. I walked out more than satisfied, by I also wished the film hadn't been split. Waiting until February to see the rest seemed rediculous. Then Volume 2's release date was delayed until April, to coincide with Volume 1's DVD release. That really pissed me off.

Well now I've seen Volume 2, and it's just wonderful. Out is the over-the-top violence that defined Volume 1, and in is a new thing for Tarantino: real, overwhelming emotion. Not only that, but I'm not even sure how the two parts would have been combined. I'm sure Tarantino could have done it, and the inevitable 3 1/2 hour Director's Cut DVD can't come soon enough, but Volume 1 and 2 are so tonally different that splicing them directly together would be difficult. Just watch each one back-to-back, as different films making one whole: there's your masterpiece, a film to stack up against Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs.

But this is not a review of Kill Bill; it's a review of Volume 2. The four stars under the name up there aren't for the series, but for this installment alone. And believe me, it earns it. Volume 2 stands on its own terms as a great achievement for everyone involved. I really want to see it again.

Volume 2 kicks off with the Bride (Uma Thurman) explaining the events of Volume 1. The Bride has already finished off two of her targets, Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) and O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), and is on her way to finish off the other three: Budd (Michael Madsen), Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah), and, finally, Bill (David Carradine). About fifty percent of the film progresses chronologically, as the Bride slowly works her way to Bill. The rest of the film is shown in flashbacks; we see the massacre at the wedding chapel, the Bride's training at the hands of brutal kung-fu master Pai Mei (Gordon Liu, voiced by Tarantino). The purpose of these scenes are to fill out the characters, and they all work.

When the Bride finally meets Bill, Volume 2 reaches a kind of emotional transcendence that I never would have expected from Tarantino. The Bride bursts into Bill's house only to find her daughter (not a spoiler - this is given away at the end of Volume 1) awaiting her. The scenes between Bill and the Bride are beautifully written and played, giving away previously unimagined facets of each character's personalities. Their final conversation has a sort of beautiful lyricism that caught me completely by surprise. Despite Bill's utter amorality, these scenes develop him as such that his inevitable demise is actually kind of bittersweet. The final thirty minutes of the film are absolutely, unbelievably perfect; how many movies can elicit emotion from a single title card, or the word "mommy"?

Uma Thurman, so good in Volume 1, has reached a new career high here. She combines the amazing physical prowess from the first volume with real emotional depth. She never misses a beat in making us care about her character. Handily matching her step for step is David Carradine, who should be nominated for an Oscar. Carradine, a famous B-movie actor, gives an amazing performance that should revitalize his career the way Pulp Fiction revitalized John Travolta's. He creates a real human being rather than a straight-forward villain that we can't wait to see die. The rest of the cast is good as well; Michael Madsen is his usual laid-back self; Daryl Hannah plays against type as a heartless killer; and Gordon Liu, a famous Chinese actor, gets some great physical humor.

Kill Bill: Volume 2 is everything we have come to expect from Tarantino. It's violent, it makes us laugh, it puts us in awe of his knack for dialogue (Bill's Superman speech is a highlight). But it is also something else entirely. It does something no one would think a Tarantino film would: it makes us cry.

© 2004 Matt Noller