This is a bold one, it’s true. With a cast that includes Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, reborn John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, Chistopher Walken, Uma Thurman and Ving Rhames it’s hard to say anyone exactly steals Pulp Fiction. It’s not even easy to award him the best speech, hotly contested by Captain Koons (Walken) and Marsellus’ (Rhames) “medieval on his ass” moment. However, in what is almost a cameo appearance, Harvey Keitel created The Wolf, and it’s a spectacular interruption in a film full of ‘cool’ characters clashing; Keitel reminds the audience that these guys may be impressive, but someone else is always bigger and better. These guys are playing at being badass, but The Wolf is in control.
Without saying too much, there’s a mess that needs to be cleaned up and the clock is ticking as Jimmy’s (Tarantino himself) wife is going to be home in a matter of minutes. ‘The Wolf’ is with them immediately, called in by Marsellus Wallace, and has the situation in hand. In one of the smallest roles of the film that could be considered entirely integral to the plot, it is four minutes of pure gold.
In no time at all Mr Wolf is established as more than a big deal, he is the deal, and you get the sense that there isn’t a single other character in the film who would find themselves in a position to go up against Mr Wolf and walk away. He’s the Tom Bombadil of Pulp Fiction; he’s so above it all that really he isn’t a part of the action, he’s the semi-god semi-ghost keeper of the Pulp Fiction world as it ticks along and he’s just nipped in to clean up the messy mistake so we can go on as before.
Everyone is on top form in Pulp Fiction but few characters are as uniquely interesting. In terms of why he trumps performances like Walken’s, it’s simply because he’s not Christopher Walken. Cpt. Koons is less phenomenally quotable as mimicable, and really, you’re not pulling out your Cpt. Koons impression, you’re pulling out – or being forced to listen to for the twenty-thousandth time – a Walken impression. And probably not a very good one. However, it’s much less likely that Harvey Keitel is well known to the generation catching up with the Tarantino box set, but easily makes as much of an impact. The way Wolf saunters in, politely instructs Jimmy to pour him some of the coffee (“lots of sugar, lots of cream”) that Jimmy was only a second ago bragging about to Jules and Vincent, and takes over the situation is fuelled by Keitel’s natural ability to command a room with his performances.
Having produced some of his best work in Tarantino (or at least affiliated) films, Tarantino wrote lead parts for him in both Reservoir Dogs and From Dusk Til Dawn. All Mr White has in common with Mr Wolf is the suit; it’s a grand departure from the soft-hearted professional who breaks the law but won’t see the innocent suffer, who works from his gut instinct. In From Dusk Til Dawn he plays Jacob Fuller, a widowed former minister and father of two. Jacob is grieving, brave and loving, so not too much in common there. Mr Wolf is something new with a dash of old school cool – he’s here to get shit done. Though Jules and Vincent are seriously intimidating killers in their own right and currently drenched in the blood of their associate, it’s The Wolf who intimidates Jimmy, and even Jules knows when to keep his mouth shut and let himself be bossed around (a notably reversal from the earlier infamous ‘Big Kahuna burger’ scene).
Ultimately, the Wolf is the coolest mother****** around and Keitel deserves credit for making a meal out of a pint-sized part, and creating a hell of an impression in an instant. There are no parts like Mr Wolf, no characters that feel similar, because he’s a unique moment in the middle of a filmic masterpiece. He’s a mystery, but it’s none of your business what hides under the perfect suit. What does he want? Where does he come from? How did he become this man? Why is he available at a moments notice? It doesn’t matter: he’s a professional, he will get the job done, he will hurt you if you do not do what he tells you, and he doesn’t have to say please.