This weekend I rewatched Pulp Fiction for the first time in what has to be about ten years. I tried hard just to watch it as a viewer and not get caught up in the mechanics and the "what I can learn from this" of it all. Unfortunately, Tarantino is often so good with character work and dialogue that I can't help but marvel at how he accomplishes what he does.
I'm sure there are a few hundred essays out there about the "Royale with Cheese" dialogue, but I want to look at a scene that closely follows on that moment's heels - when Vincent and Jules pay a visit to Brett to retrieve a briefcase that Brett has taken from Marcellis Wallace. In 9 out of 10 other movies, "enforcers" Vince and Jules would "send their message" by physically attacking and/or shouting and brow-beating their targets.
Instead that doesn't exactly happen. In fact, Vincent says very little, while Jules is downright jovial as he makes small talk with Brett and helps himself to a bite of his burger. And yet, the scene is incredibly tense - but why is that? We've not seen either of these men actually be violent yet, so why are we on the edge of our seat.
Because Brett is clearly scared shitless - even before Jules moves on to overt threats and eventually violence. And because Brett knows that, WE know that. Brett's tension and nerves clearly convey that if Marcellis Wallace has sent these guys to deal with you, you are FUCKED.
Jules doesn't need to come in waving his gun around, shouting that everyone there is going to die. His reputation precedes him. And all of that is conveyed in Brett's reactions and posture throughout the scene.
So it's a good thing to remember - your characters don't always have to beat their own chests. You can let everyone else in the scene do the work for them.