Film: Jackie Brown
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Primary Cast: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster, Robert De Niro, Michael Keaton, Bridget Fonda, Michael Bowen
US Release Date: 25 December 1997
I have a (somewhat embarrassing) confession to make: my first Tarantino film was Django Unchained, which I saw in theaters on a whim. I’d never seen anything like it, and I fell in love with it pretty quickly. Over the next few weeks, I watched Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, and Inglourious Basterds. I eventually found my way to Reservoir Dogs and Death Proof as well. But not to Jackie Brown. It’s not that I wasn’t aware of the film—I’m pretty sure it found a place in my Netflix queue the same day I watched Pulp Fiction—but I never really heard anyone talk about it either.
So, I’m doing things a little differently today. Usually, when I review a film that’s been out as long as Jackie Brown, I try to keep things brief and don’t bother to give much background on the film or to provide a plot summary. Typically, the resulting “quick review” is posted along with one or two others as well.
But today (in this, the year 2015), I’m going to write a full review of 1997’s Jackie Brown. I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m not the only young film lover (or Tarantino fan) who hasn’t heard that much about the film. Sandwiched between Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill Vol. 1, Jackie Brown seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle. No, it’s not as flashy, as pulpy, or as zany as some of Tarantino’s other films, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t deserve the same sort of devoted following that some of those films have.
Jackie Brown (Grier) works as a 44-year-old flight attendant for a small airline and only makes $16,000 a year (thanks to a previous run in with the law, she is unable to get job with a better-paying airline). After one of her flights, two ATF agents at LAX (Keaton and Bowen) catch Jackie smuggling money (and some cocaine) from Mexico, and she soon finds herself facing jail time.
The money Jackie was smuggling belongs to Ordell Robbie (Jackson), who has made $500,000 selling guns illegally. Unfortunately for him, virtually all of that money is stuck in Mexico. After learning about Jackie’s arrest, Ordell pays her bond, and bail bondsman Max Cherry (Forster) takes her home. He also falls in love with her.
Worried that Ordell will kill her, determined not to spend any time in jail, and eager to secure a better future for herself, Jackie begins hatching a plan to dupe both Ordell and the ATF while simultaneously making off with most of Ordell’s money. After convincing the ATF that she will help them catch Ordell and after convincing Ordell that she is double-crossing the ATF, Jackie enlists Max’s to help her to carry out her plan.
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There is a great deal about Jackie Brown that took me by surprise. Even though Tarantino’s name is written all over the film—in its lively dialogue and impeccable use of music, in its humor and trunk shots, in its violence and images of feet—it simply wasn’t quite what I expected. This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, I ended up liking the film even more than I thought I would, but I also ended up liking it for several reasons that I did not fully anticipate. Jackie Brown is Tarantino, but with some of the volume turned down. It’s quieter, more mature, and has more emotional depth than some of his other works. If one were to look at the director’s entire filmography, Jackie Brown is most certainly the slow-burner in the bunch, but the result is a film that pretty much has it all.
Jackie Brown feels alive. It runs the gamut from terrifying to touching. The world of the film is layered and expansive, and all of its characters are complex and realistically detailed. Tarantino’s writing (he adapted the film from an Elmore Leonard novel) is top-notch. He gives so much detail, personality, and life to his characters, and their lives seem to stretch far beyond the scope of the film. The characters in Jackie Brown don’t have all the answers right away and spend a great deal of time in moral gray areas. They also have feelings and aspirations that simply cannot be contained by the film’s 160-minute running time. They are incredibly memorable, and there is something remarkably organic about all of their actions.
While devoting a great deal of energy to the creation of characters, Tarantino’s screenplay also prioritizes conversation over plot; he does this in a number of his films, but it’s as effective in Jackie Brown as anywhere else. Tarantino is a master of dialogue, and for him, conversation is much more riveting (and adds much more to a story) than a chase scene or sex. Even though the abundance of conversation in Jackie Brown could be said to slow the pace of the film, it is also what makes it so gripping and worthwhile.
Unsurprisingly, Tarantino deserves a lot of the credit for Jackie Brown‘s success, but so does Pam Grier. She is perfect for the title role, and there is so much maturity, energy, and sheer magnetism in her performance that it’s impossible not to root for Jackie even if what she’s doing isn’t what some would consider “the right thing.”
As portrayed by Grier, Jackie Brown is the sort of woman rarely seen on screen in today’s Hollywood—not only is she a middle-aged black woman in a leading role, she’s also independent, fearless, and remarkably capable. In Jackie Brown, Jackie succeeds, because she genuinely outsmarts everyone around her. She deserves what she gets, and she’s one of the very best characters I’ve ever seen.
Many other members of the Jackie Brown‘s cast do good work in the film as well, including Jackson, De Niro, and Fonda. That said, Forster is particularly impressive. He plays the tired bail bondsman Max Cherry with undeniable charm, and his performance is largely responsible for many of Jackie Brown‘s more touching moments.
Compared to some of Tarantino’s other films, Jackie Brown‘s body count is relatively low. And yet, the film is still brimming with palpable tension and is, at times, remarkably brutal. There is something truly terrifying about Ordell, and there are several scenes in the film that made me so anxious, that I don’t expect to be forgetting them any time soon. Though not all of the films’ tenser moments are violent, every single act of violence in the film counts, and there is not a single throwaway death. The film may go quite a while without showing its viewers any blood, but when it does, it makes an impact.
There is a romantic subplot in Jackie Brown. Even though it exists primarily in the background, it is so well executed, that I wouldn’t feel right about ending this review without mentioning it. While the speed with which Max falls for Jackie is a little ridiculous (then again, who wouldn’t fall for her?), the rest of the relationship is executed with a level of realism and maturity that is truly refreshing. Tarantino doesn’t make the mistake of forcing Max or Jackie to vocalize any of their feelings, because it would be impractical and unrealistic for them to do so. And besides, their actions and faces are more than enough to get the message across. In Jackie Brown, romance feels right, and it never detracts from the rest of the film.
If there is a problem with Jackie Brown, it is one of length. As enjoyable and well-crafted as the film is, it is a bit too long. There a bit too much packed into the whole thing as well. The world of the film feels incredibly textured and real, which is most certainly a good thing. Still, one gets the sense that more editing—not only to cut down the length, but to eliminate some of the bulk—would have resulted in a tighter, stronger film.
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Until Next Time
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