Over the next few days, I’ll run down a few of the best movie speeches of all time (in no particular order, before the inquisition begins), and I’m starting with my favourite one of the last 20 years, Christopher Walken’s excellent cameo in 1994’s Pulp Fiction. As Walken’s Captain Koons gives a family heirloom to the infant Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis in the main part of the film), he explains its history, detailing how it got from Butch’s great-grandfather’s wrist to his own.
Walken gets mocked a lot for his acting style: his voice tends to GO up AND down at SEEMingly ranDOM junCTURes and he has had many people impersonate him over the years with great success. However, in this tiny scene he really shows why he has become such a well-regarded acting talent in filmland, starting with a superbly emotional rundown of the gold watch’s history.
In just two minutes his story imbues the watch with real authenticity and gravitas, to the point where you can completely understand why the adult Butch dangerously returns to his hotel room to retrieve it later on. When the speech takes on an amusing turn, however, Walken plays it dead straight and it only makes it funnier. His delivery never fails to impress me in this scene; it’s a scant three-minute monologue in a two-and-a-half hour film, but it shows Walken’s acting chops at their finest.
Of course, the words themselves are just as important as the delivery of them, and scenes like this illustrate just how good Tarantino is when he’s at his best. The watch’s violent history of war is brutal and quite moving, but in just three little words (“up his ass”) the entire scene gets flipped on its head and it becomes a brilliantly funny sequence, and maybe the best scene in a great movie.
QT, like Walken, has taken a lot of stick over the years as posters for his films adorn student walls and people accuse him of being overrated as a director. Regardless of other people’s views, for me Pulp Fiction is one of the best films of the ’90s and its excellent scripting is what rightly launched Tarantino into the stratosphere. It’s a wonderful scene and a brilliant speech, fully deserving as one of the best in recent memory.
Forget “Ezekiel 25:17” or the “royale with cheese”, Chris Walken’s explanation of the watch is the best piece of dialogue in a movie chock full of great speeches.