When people discuss Kill Bill, they naturally focus on the protagonist, Beatrix, the antagonist, Bill, or unforgettable supporting characters such as Pai Mei or Hattori Hanzo. It is rare to hear anyone mention Budd, brilliantly portrayed by Michael Madsen, but I think he’s one of the most interesting characters in the movie. Indeed, this underappreciated and unsung hero is crucial to Beatrix’ story.
We get our first introduction to Budd toward the end of Volume 1, and then we see him briefly during the assault on Beatrix at the chapel at the beginning of Volume 2. The appearance at the chapel is actually quite important, because the man we see in those black and white flashbacks – a smiling, sharply dressed, cold hearted assassin – starkly contrasts with the dirty, overweight, broken man we come to know throughout the second film.
Budd is endearing because, unlike other members of the “Deadly Viper Assassination Squad” (except perhaps Bill), he is repentant. “We deserve to die,” he tells his brother. Budd has abandoned his murderous lifestyle and works as a “bouncer in a titty bar”. We know there was some kind of conflict between him and Bill, but we’re never told of the exact nature of that rift. It’s reasonable to surmise that it had something to do with the attack on Beatrix. Budd quietly accepts humiliating treatment from his coke-snorting, weaselly boss, Larry. Madsen’s expert performance makes it impossible for the audience not to sympathize with Budd. We want him to grab Larry by the throat, toss him across the room and walk out. But he won’t. Budd will gladly accept any level of abuse in his desire to atone for past sins.
I’d go so far as to say that Budd not only feels guilt over what was done to Beatrix, but actually endorses her quest for revenge. It’s ironic that of all the Deadly Viper assassins, Budd, a “bushwhackin’, scrub, alkie piece of shit”, is the only one who gets the jump on Beatrix and has an opportunity to kill her. And yet, he chooses not to, instead burying her alive at the grave of Paula Schulz, whence she promptly escapes. One could even argue that he knew she’d escape, and sought to imprison her just long enough to receive payment from Elle.
Budd plays a pivotal role in Kill Bill. His decisions allow Beatrix to succeed in her quest. It’s no coincidence that he alone escapes her blade, only to be double crossed by the one-eyed Elle, his former partner in crime.
Budd is a tragic hero of sorts, and the fact that few acknowledge his importance as a character is a tragedy in itself.