Cert: 15 Runtime: 154 mins Director: Quentin Tarantino Cast: Pam Grier, Samuel L.Jackson, Robert Forster, Michael Keaton and Robert De Niro
Cut to 13 years later, you’re 44 years of age. You’re flying for the shittiest-little-shuttle-fucking piece of shit Mexican airline that there is
So we’ve reached 1997 and Jackie Brown was QT’s follow up to Pulp Fiction, what do we have in store then? Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) is the name of a flight attendant who gets caught smuggling her boss’ gun money on the airline she works for. Luckily for her, the Fed Ray Nicolet (Michael Keaton) and the LA Cop Mark Dargus (Michael Bowen) decide to team up in order to arrest the arms dealer she works for, whose name they don’t even know. Here’s when she has to choose one way: tell Nicolet and Dargus about Ordell Robbie (the arms dealer) (Samuel l.Jackson) and get her freedom -except that if Ordell suspects you’re talking about him, you’re dead- or keep her mouth shut and do some time. That’s when she meets Max Cherry (Robert Forster) -her bail bondsman-, a late fifties, recently separated, burnt-out man, who falls in love with her. Then Jackie comes up with a plan to play the Feds off against Ordell and the guys he works with -Louis Gara (Robert De Niro) and Melanie Ralston (Bridget Fonda), among others- and walk off with their money. But she needs Max’s help. No one is going to stand in the way of his million dollar payoff.
These days, when a director becomes a household name, there’s a pressure on them to live up to their established reputation. If the formula changes the fans don’t take it well. This is at least partly thanks to the auteur theory, which tends to value a director’s work on its consistency rather than the actual quality of each movie. After his revolutionary hit Pulp Fiction, his follow-up Jackie Brown was not exactly a flop, but its reception among critiques, awards ceremonies and the general chitchat of Tarantino aficionados was somewhat lukewarm compared to the raging success of Pulp Fiction. What was wrong?Jackie Brown differs from previous Tarantino projects in that it is adapted from a novel, rather than being an original screenplay straight from the director’s brain (albeit filtered through his many cinematic influences). It contains rather less of the dialogue-for-dialogue’s sake that was so integral to the appeal of Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, so no “Royale with Cheese” business here. It still has plenty of cracking dialogue in pursuit of plot though, and scenes such as Lewis trying to explain what went wrong with the switch are glowing examples of Tarantino’s black humour. Overall it’s a finely constructed thing, a nod towards the lovers-in-crime sub-genre of film noir as much as it is a stylistic homage to blaxploitation. And perhaps it’s those romantic undertones and the slightly more low-key violence that put off many of the less broadminded Tarantino admirers.Always something of a minimalist behind the camera, Tarantino’s visual style here is at its most simple. Like a Sergio Leone picture, every scene basically boils down to a stand-off between two characters. Tarantino mostly eschews camera movement, just giving us stripped-down shots of people glaring at each other. Of course some may miss the more flamboyant touches that could be seen in his earlier movies, but for the sake of story and character, he is better without them.
Special mention must be made of the music in Jackie Brown. Tarantino is of course known for his use of popular music soundtracks, but here it is more apt and co-ordinated than ever. The opening sequence is perfectly timed to “Across 110th Street”, the aching melody and lyrics setting the tone of the whole movie as Pam Grier strides along to the beat. At other times the soundtrack is even witty, as when Robert Forster steps out of the changing room. Tarantino should try making a musical one day. It’d be amazing.The simplicity of Tarantino’s approach has given more prominence to the cast. Blaxploitation star Pam Grier here gets her most significant role in years, slotting into Tarantino-world with ease and confidence. She has a lot of silences – her refusal to answer when she’s asked if the envelope can be searched, the long close-up of her while Michael Bowen interrogates her offscreen – but she constantly acts through them, subtle reactions flickering across her face. Crucially she has the necessary strength of character to make us believe she would stand up to cops and gangsters. Other honourable mentions must also go to Robert De Niro, bringing presence to his small part, and his unlikely but fruitful pairing with Bridget Fonda, who matches him for comical delivery.Jackie Brown clearly lacks the superficial pizazz and deconstructed narrative that wowed everyone in Pulp Fiction, but in its place there is a clear, strong story arc and a slightly more human, emotional slant. To my mind that’s more than a fair exchange. But perhaps it’s most helpful not to consider what it is or is not in comparison to its predecessor. Jackie Brown is an excellent movie in its own right.