movie: Jackie Brown (1997)

jackie brown
You know I’m a Tarantino fan, but I stumbled on this one, friends.

Jackie Brown (played by Pam Grier) is a flight attendant who’s been busted smuggling cash over international borders for Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Ordell. The cops don’t want her in prison: they want her to inform on him. Ordell bails her out with the help of bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster, who feels decades more dated than the rest of the film), so he can kill her; but she thwarts him. Jackie plays the cops (chiefly an ATF agent played by Michael Keaton) against Ordell against Cherry, who falls for her; adding to the star-studded staff is Ordell’s old friend fresh out of jail, played by Robert De Niro, one of his kept women played by Bridget Fonda, and a brief role by Chris Tucker.

In Tarantino fashion, the plot is many-twisted: Jackie tells everybody a different story of herself and her plans, so watch closely for where she’s really headed and who’s really holding the bag. The script is heavy on clever monologues that are not strictly realistic but are great fun to listen to nonetheless. (These are the great strengths of Pulp Fiction, I think.) I hadn’t known that this movie was based on an Elmore Leonard novel (Rum Punch), but it makes sense now.

On the other hand, where I think the extensive use of the n-word in Django Unchained was fairly well justified and pointed, it grated here. There were many references to race that felt gratuitous rather than purposeful. I felt uncomfortable. I know this movie is supposed to reference a tradition of “blaxploitation” movies that I missed out on: maybe I’m just lacking the reference point to appreciate Tarantino’s edginess. But that’s my reaction: it was a little too unjustifiably race-conscious for me.

I did like the vintage feel to the movie. Anthony Lee Collins or somebody else with the relevant expertise will have to help me out here: I know there’s something about the cinematography, maybe the type of film used (?), that makes Jackie Brown feel older than it is. I can’t put my finger on it but Robert Forster’s character felt out of another time, even within the context of the film. And then there’s the text used in certain sections, like in the Kill Bill movies, that felt like it referenced something older, too.

So, a mixed review. I liked the plot twists, and the acting was excellent, and Tarantino’s monologues continue to crack me up. But the n-word got to me this time around.

Rating: 5 shopping bags.

3 Responses

  1. I appreciate the vote of confidence that I’m going to explain about lenses and film stock, but the fact is that I don’t have a clue. Sorry. 🙂

    This film has always felt like Tarantino’s first (and not entirely successful) attempt to figure out how to advance, and maybe “grow up,” as a filmmaker. So, there’s still some of the not-so-good immaturity (like the overuse of the n-word) combined with the pathos of the end.

    (Spoilers, I guess 🙂 )

    Tarantino has said in interviews that the subtext of the end, the tragedy of the story, is that Forster’s character can’t bring himself to go with her, though in caper-movie terms he should, and the thing that’s never said, though everybody knows it, is that if she’d been white he probably would have, He is, as you say, old-fashioned, and he can’t make that leap.

    Tarantino solved the “how to grow up” (and how not to grow up) thing much more successfully later on.

  2. Oh, and by the way, Kill Bill Vol. 1 — the next movie he made — can be read as, among other things, a movie-length defense of his appropriation of Black culture. He heard the criticism, obviously, and I think that’s his reply. 🙂

    • Well, despite your failure on the lenses! you’ve put it nicely, Anthony. His first attempt to grow up: I like it, and I think it states it well. (You also sent me looking for a list of his movies in order, and of course I found there were more than I knew, and this one came about 10 years in.) I wholeheartedly agree that he solved it better later on; and I think Kill Bill was a comparative triumph. Thanks for shedding light, as ever.

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