"My ass may be dumb, but I ain't no dumbass."
The legacy of Pulp Fiction is undeniable. Even at the time of release people new Tarantino was Hollywood’s hottest new director on the block and yet he distanced himself from Hollywood traditions and conventions, a true auteur you might say. Aghast were the early Tarantino hipsters when Jackie Brown hit the screen. With his pop culture references limited and eccentric antics muted needless to say Jackie Brown was not what people were expecting.
I picked Jackie Brown up in HMV a fair few years back, not knowing what it was about, other than that it was directed by Tarantino I myself had similar expectations. But rather than leaving with an unsatisfied expression of bemusement, it was, for a while the only film I could recommend to anyone, apart from Back to the Future of course. At the time I couldn’t put my finger on why I enjoyed it so much. It’s no secret Tarantino has his own style and let’s be honest who was going to tell him he couldn’t make Jackie Brown? It has to be treated and respected for what it is, not what it isn’t. By which of course I mean it isn’t Pulp Fiction.
Jackie Brown marks Tarantino’s first direct homage to the B-Movies he loved and curated. Featuring a strong female lead as the first of his ‘Main Characters’ (since followed by The Bride and Django) Pam Grier was cast as Jackie Brown for her diverse acting career most notably her blaxploitation flicks from the 70s. In classic Tarantino style we open with a killer soundtrack as we follow Jackie in a lengthy tracking shot through an airport to her destination as an air stewardess for a tacky airline (you can find my full Opening Scene Opinion here).
Based on the novel ‘Rum Punch’ by Elmore Leonard, Jackie Brown was another step away from Pulp Fiction that fans were not expecting. With his first two original screenplays whipping up a storm Jackie Brown was as risky as its plot.
What Jackie Brown does share with Pulp Fiction is Samuel L. Jackson. In another outstanding original performance Jackson, supported by Robert De Niro in a grumpy nuanced role, rests his weary criminal legs in front of the television for another lesson in the weapons of the world. ‘Chicks Who Love Guns’ blasts onto the TV set accompanied by ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ and we’re treated to an array of patriotic bosoms. Jackson’s seductive moxie, profane rhetoric, and menacing allure as Ordell Robbie, gun-runner extraordinaire, is shaken by some unfortunate news. One of Ordell’s couriers by the name of Beaumont Livingstone, Chris Tucker, winds up in jail for drink driving with a pistol.
Travelling to Max Cherry (Robert Forster), bail bondsman esquire, Ordell pays Beaumont’s bail, but, not the type of guy to do things out of the kindness of his heart there’s a sinister motive for getting Beaumont out in the open. Aware Beaumont “ain’t got a doing-time kind of disposition” Ordell brings about swift retribution in one of my favourite scenes of all time.
Ordell’s no-nonsense introduction out the way we get back to Jackie. Jackie’s story gets off to a shaky start. Ambushed in the Airport car park by ATF Agent (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and Explosives) Ray Nicolette, featuring Michael Keaton in a stellar performance, and Mark Dargus an LAPD Detective, Jackie gets pulled up on possession of $50,000 and cocaine stashed in her travel bag. Unaware the cocaine had been placed in her bag, in this instance ignorance is not so bliss. Ray knew the money would be there and in an interview Jackie refuses to divulge the information Ray is digging for. Bond set for $10,000 by Sid Haig in a cameo role as the Judge presiding over Jackie’s case we jump right back into Max Cherry’s office for round two.
~ How do you capture love at first sight? ~
There’s a question I never thought I’d pose in a Tarantino review. No matter how many Romance films are made they all lack a sense of genuineness. You’re expecting the characters to fall in love and it all feels too corny, too strung together, too synthetic for the screen. Max Cherry’s first sight of Jackie is one of Tarantino’s most sincere moments and it’s beautifully unexpected.
Sentimental and sincere, Max and Jackie go for a quiet drink, where Jackie, still uneasy about Ordell paying her bail, suspects Beaumont’s convenient disappearance is tied to Ordell and by association she could meet the same end. True to her suspicions upon returning home Ordell arrives trying to play it cool, but Jackie sees right through his phony mirage. Grabbing the viewer’s attention we see a harsher, independent side to Jackie who controls the room and puts Ordell in his place. Drumming up a scheme to help Ordell get his money out of Mexico Jackie lays out her plan for him behind closed doors.
Weaving an intricate web of deceit that keeps the viewer second guessing, Jackie Brown profits from Tarantino’s measured technical style, this time void of his usual heavy pop culture references. Instead opting for a more sincere approach. Keeping it low key with a smooth soundtrack, throwing in The Meters ‘Cissy Strut’ rolling bass line for good measure.
Shaking up his repertoire Tarantino delivers one of his finest films with one of the greatest nuanced love stories to grace the silver screen. For its rewatchability, intriguing plot, subtle humour, awesome script, and scintillating performances from Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, and Robert Forster Jackie Brown is a Must-see.
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