Jackie Brown (1997)
By: Stuart Giesel on February 21, 2013 | Comments
Roadshow | Region B | 1.85:1, 1080p | English DTS HD MA 5.1 | 153 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster, Bridget Fonda, Robert De Niro
Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino
Country: USA
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Love or loathe the man, you have to admit that Quentin Tarantino makes some damn fine films. On initial appearances Jackie Brown looks like it has a lot in common with other Tarantino films - blistering and foul-mouthed dialogue, unconventional narrative structure, gunplay, Samuel L. Jackson. But when you actually watch the damn thing, you realise that Tarantino has delivered an unexpectedly mature, nuanced and beautifully acted drama that just happens to be clad in a pulp crime wrapper.

I've seen Jackie Brown four times now and each time it fucks with me, and my reaction changes as a result. The first time I watched it, frankly I didn't much like it - after having been blown away by the audacity and brilliance of Pulp Fiction, I found Jackie Brown to be too drawn-out, too slow, too unlike Pulp Fiction. I'm a massive fan of Elmore Leonard, so I expected Jackie Brown to be a tight, fast-moving retelling of Rum Punch. The second viewing improved matters - I still found it indulgent and overlong, but I was able to better appreciate the dialogue and acting. The third viewing shined a greater light on Tarantino's restraint and his cinematic stylings: his sublime choice of music, the shots and camera movements, some of the more subtle interactions between its major players. On this, my fourth viewing, I have to say that Jackie Brown has emerged as one of my favourite Tarantino films (personally I only rate Inglourious Basterds and the uncut version of Kill Bill Vol 1 higher). It's not as brutal or straightforward as Reservoir Dogs, not as stylised or "cinematic" as Kill Bill, nor as bold or inventive as Pulp Fiction or Inglourious Basterds. In a way, it doesn't seem fair to compare it with his other work. Jackie Brown stands alone as an assured, wonderful piece of cinema.

Airline attendant Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) uses her status to makes money runs for small-time arms dealer Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson). She gets pinched by ATF officer Ray Nicolette (Michael Keaton) and is compelled to provide evidence against Robbie. She meets her bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster) and a relationship forms; they soon put a plan together to escape with a whole lot of Robbie's money whilst handing him over to the ATF. Complicating matters is Robbie's new partner-in-crime Louis Gara (Robert De Niro) and stoner girlfriend Melanie (Bridget Fonda). So in the end everyone's trying to scam everyone else, but Robbie proves that he's not a man to be trifled with.

Tarantino, rightly or wrongly, has been lauded for rejuvenating the career of actors previously forgotten or, at the least, relegated to B-movie obscurity. He famously reincarnated the career of John Travolta (who could use another jump-start right about now) in Pulp Fiction and more recently attempted the same for David Carradine and Daryl Hannah in Kill Bill and Kurt Russell in Death Proof. Tarantino claims it's about casting the right actor for the role, and states that the reason we don't see some of these faces is because Hollywood goes off the same casting sheet. Whatever the reason, you have to admit that he gets results. Here, in Jackie Brown, he has cast exploitation queen Pam Grier - before this, probably best known from Coffy and Foxy Brown - in the lead role, and B-movie stalwart Robert Forster as bail bondsman Max Cherry. Both are superb choices. In most of the films I've seen her in, Grier never really got to flex her acting chops, but here she has to handle a complex role, one that has her balance between a tough, worldly, seen-it-all-before woman, and a vulnerable, frightened woman who's cognizant of her age and knows she's running out of viable options in her life. Grier handles the role beautifully, and looking back at the performance now, it's hard to think of anyone else who could have handled the material so convincingly. The hard edge, the weariness and the vulnerability - all of these elements are written on her face. Forster is equally as good, possibly even better, as a man who's accepted both the pros and cons of his occupation as well as his advancing age and approaches every situation stoically, with a calm and a dignity that only comes from experience.

That's not to say the rest of the cast isn't great. Hell, even Chris Tucker as a low-life associate of Robbie is terrific. Samuel L. Jackson has appeared in so many films since 1997 - by my count nearly all of them - that it's easy to forget that when he's not simply cashing a paycheck, he can be outstandingly good. Despite the character's oddball stylings, he's more terrifying here as the controlling, short-tempered Ordell Robbie than compared with his iconic role as the hitman Jules in Pulp Fiction. It's wonderful to watch Robert De Niro, who's usually playing the main heavy in crime-themed movies, play such a drug-addled, slow-paced character, and he masterfully underplays almost every scene he's in. Bridget Fonda has less to do than her costars but still brings her A-game, able to make her character simultaneously appealing and frustrating.

Tarantino's dialogue has always been his strong point, as far back as Reservoir Dogs. As a director, you'd find few flourishes in that film, although Pulp Fiction certainly had a few. In Jackie Brown, as the plot develops, Tarantino's assured direction comes to the fore. It's not showy, not even when we get to the Rashomon-inspired third act where the money exchange goes down through the eyes of the various characters. But look closely and you can see how precisely choreographed, framed and edited the film is. And surely Tarantino is only second to Martin Scorsese in his use of music (not score) in his films - Pam Grier on a moving walkway set to Bobby Womack's version of "Across 110th Street" is one of the most memorable opening scenes of recent memory, and his use of "Street Life" and "Didn't I Blow Your Mind This Time" also stand out in what is a remarkably strong soundtrack.

Where does Jackie Brown stand in Tarantino's bloodsoaked oeuvre? He's made far more entertaining films, but I can't think of one that's more heartfelt. It's a character-driven drama as well as an ode to ageing - if it were set in any other genre it would probably have won a multitude of Oscars, but because it's based on a pulp crime novel it didn't win any, not even for Robert Forster (who was Oscar nominated for this role, I believe). Ah, what the hell does the Academy know - after all, Chicago and Crash are Best Picture winners. For now, Tarantino seems set in making genre films with exploitation elements in a historical context, so who knows whether he'll return to Jackie Brown's character-driven restraint. Let's hope he does when the time is right.
The Disc
The Blu-Ray of Jackie Brown provides superior picture and sound quality (duh) as one might expect. Picture-wise, it's nothing to rave about, but then Jackie Brown isn't exactly a dynamic picture visually-speaking. Detail is fine, and in fact my biggest gripe would be that the picture feels a little too dark at times, though I don't know if this is a problem with the transfer or the source. Sound is dynamic, particularly with the superb R&B-based soundtrack, and dialogue is strong. No real complaints as far as either picture or sound goes, really.

Roadshow's Blu-Ray contains a wealth of extras; unfortunately there's no audio commentary, but there are three decent features. Breaking Down Jackie Brown is an interesting featurette that sees a roundtable of critics headed by Elvis Mitchell discuss various aspects of the film and their opinions on the performances and the film's reception. Jackie Brown: How It Went Down contains interviews with Tarantino, Elmore Leonard and most of the cast. A Look Back at Jackie Brown is an almost hour-long interview with Tarantino which proves informative and exhausting. Like Scorsese, Tarantino's almost encyclopaedic-knowledge of film is astonishing, if not a little wearying.

Elsewhere on the disc is the complete "Chicks With Guns" Video that is briefly seen at the start of the film in Robbie's apartment. There are about fifteen minutes' worth of deleted and alternate scenes with an introduction by Tarantino. Ultimately, as is usually the case with deleted scenes, they were wisely cut for pacing reasons.Siskel and Ebert "At The Movies" sees the film critics provide their opinion on Jackie Brown, though to be honest they're not a patch on our beloved Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton. There are other bits on the disc including Jackie Brown on MTV, a Marketing Gallery, Still Galleries, a Trivia Track and Trailers for other Pam Grier and Robert Forster films.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Jackie Brown is probably Quentin Tarantino's most underappreciated film, having the misfortune of having to live up to and survive in the wake of Pulp Fiction. But I believe it's his most assured, restrained and masterly work. Surely for those people who feel that Tarantino's films are all blood and guts and swearing, it stands as his most "adult" film. It might take a few viewings to fully appreciate, and will feel too leisurely for some, but Jackie Brown stands as one of Tarantino's most accomplished efforts, with so many good performances it's an embarrassment of riches.

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