In the span of 5 short years (only half of a decade) writer director Quentin Tarantino has already made a lasting impression on the entertainment industry with his unique style of shock value and endless amounts of necessary violence and buckets of blood, creating a whirlwind with 2 of the most iconic thrill rides ever filmed. How can anyone follow up two masterpieces like Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction? Somehow Tarantino makes consistency look effortless with his third feature Jackie Brown. Penning the script based off the novel Rum Punch written by Elmore Leonard, Tarantino takes the source material and adds his creative flair that made his talent a household name.
The definition of insanity (according to Albert Einstein) is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Luckily, Tarantino isn’t doing the same thing over and over, Jackie Brown is unlike his first two films which showcases his range as a storyteller. That talent being in dialogue and plot. Tarantino can take what looks to be a convoluted plot and simplify it, making it easy enough to follow along to, become engrossed in the story and characters but still make it a mystery to how the film will finish in its final moments.
Following the titular character Jackie Brown (Pam Grier), Tarantino builds his screenplay around multiple characters evenly. While Jackie’s story is being told as the mastermind to secure half a million dollars, Tarantino is at his best shifting to the supporting players and giving them their time to shine in the story, making them feel like the star. Jackie is working as a flight attendant as a front for a small-time arms dealer Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson) who bails her out of jail after ATF agent Ray Nicolette (Michael Keaton) catches Jackie smuggling Ordell’s retirement fund from Mexico $50k at a time. Ray doesn’t want Jackie, he wants Ordell – Jackie is just the smartest in the room coming up with a plan to get the charges against her dropped while simultaneously getting rid of Ordell.
Within this crime heist concoction is an under-appreciated and over-looked romance budding between Jackie and her one and only partner Max Cherry (Robert Forster). Everyone else in this game is just a pawn of Jackie’s to get what she wants, her freedom and a chance to never have to start over again. From the moment Cherry picks Jackie up from jail as her bail bondsman, Cherry is infatuated by Jackie – he has a soft spot for her even going as far as buying a cassette of her favorite album to learn about the artist. I say its under-appreciated because it isn’t the focus of Tarantino’s story. Blink and you’ll miss the point of their relationship. It makes the ending that much more sincere after the boiling pot of violence builds up and spills over.
What doesn’t sit well with me is Ordell’s hairstyle and facial hair choices. Jackson again, back to back brings to life a character that may not be what anyone expects and makes them endearing but his Jules edges Ordell out slightly. I’d rather have the Jeri curl and Ezekiel 25:17 monologue but his moment of brilliance in Jackie Brown comes when Ordell is at his most vulnerable – when he loses his money and Ordell stops being a gangster for a long moment. living in that moment with him, Jackson and Tarantino get the most out of the character – we can feel his anguish and sympathize with him even though he’s a bad person.
I kept repeating to myself at the screen get off the phone Max, catch her before she leaves for good. Jackie Brown is already a lengthy adventure; Pulp Fiction is somehow longer but I wish Tarantino gave us 5 more minutes in this world with these two characters to see if he chased after her. Forster and Grier are perfect together, their chemistry doesn’t overpower the main narrative, there’s a mutual respect as partners and potential lovers.
As a fan of Tarantino’s first two films, expecting the same level of senseless but well placed and effectively used violence may come as a shock to some as Jackie Brown has very little killing within it. Tarantino methodically places the violence where it makes sense to the story. Ordell bails out Beaumont (Chris Tucker) only to kill him in the next scene. But it’s not Tarantino’s in your face type of violence – we see the shots from a high vantage point across the street. The next time someone is killed is in the third act making Jackie Brown’s intelligence over other smart people the highlight and strength of the film.
Nobody is stupid in Tarantino’s screenplay – everyone thinks they have the upper-hand, it’s how Tarantino effectively draws us as the viewer into this story. It’s a game of chess not checkers and only the smartest survives. Jackie understands this the moment she’s freed by Cherry – its why Grier is perfect for the role. Everyone in this ensemble is well cast – Tarantino has an astounding ability to put the best cast possible together to either resurrect a career or to add to an already successful one making them the center of the industry.
Rounding out the ensemble is Robert De Niro as the perfect ticking time bomb of a criminal no one sees coming until a character says the wrong thing and Bridget Forster as the stoner chick with surprisingly deep development to her character. Not a single minute is wasted establishing characters, their motivations and ultimately their unpredictable demises. Come on, its Tarantino, people will die.
I didn’t know if I initially liked Jackie Brown at first. Maybe It was going in with the expectation that it would be just as viscerally bloody and foul-mouthed as his first two films that I expected the violence to pick up in the next scene for the entirety of the film. After it sat with me, and I put more thought into it overall, Jackie Brown is just as brilliant as Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. It’s a different feeling than the former and I’m glad it is because it’s about the journey Jackie takes and the relationships she makes or breaks along the way. I will forever assume Max follows Jackie to their destination and live happily ever after.
Written By: Quentin Tarantino
Directed By: Quentin Tarantino
Cinematography: Guillermo Navarro
Starring: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster, Bridget Fonda, Michael Keaton, Robert De Niro, Chris Tucker
Release Date: December 25, 1997
Running Time: 2 Hours 34 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%
My Score: 4 out of 5
Based On: Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard