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Jackie Brown

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Jackie Brown

Starring: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Rated: R
RunTime: 155 Minutes
Release Date: December 1997
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Suspense

*Also starring: Robert Forster, Bridget Fonda, Michael Keaton, Robert De Niro, Michael Bowen, Chris Tucker, Lisa Gay Hamilton

Review by MrBrown
3½ stars out of 4

Three years and numerous talk show appearances, acting gigs, and media potshots after the release of his landmark Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino has finally directed a full-length follow-up, Jackie Brown. But those expecting the blood-drenched, trigger-happy Tarantino of old are in for a surprise--his adaptation of the Elmore Leonard novel Rum Punch is a more mature, only moderately violent, and a most unexpectedly romantic and moving caper comedy/drama.

OK, I know what you're thinking--a good review from me is just about guaranteed for Tarantino, right? No. I walked into the screening with my expectations dramatically diminished, partially based on some early positive-but-not-great notices and the virtual lack of buzz attached to the finished project. My expectations were neither boosted nor diminished further by the amusingly kitschy, retro-'70s opening credit roll, with Pam Grier's title character moving on one of those airport conveyor belt walkways, the hard-driving soul of Bobby Womack's "Across 110th Street" blaring on the soundtrack, and the appearance of a copyright notice under the film's title card.

Jackie is a 44-year-old, down-on-her-luck flight attendant for Cabo Air who also works as a money courier for arms dealer Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson). When the Feds, led by ATF agent Ray Nicolet (Michael Keaton), catch onto her extracurricular activities (without knowing exactly whom she works for), Jackie devises a complex scheme to rob Ordell of $500,000--_and_ stay in the good graces of law enforcement, whom she pits against Ordell. Figuring into her plan is her bail bondsman, burnt-out 50-something Max Cherry (Robert Forster).

Leonard's basic storyline is pretty standard, but Tarantino tells it in a straightforward fashion, but not without a certain amount of his unique panache, albeit slightly altered in some respects. Predictably, his dialogue has great snap, but while there are the trademark pop culture references, they are noticeably in shorter supply--a wise move, so the speech never distracts from the twisting plot. His penchant for nonlinear storytelling shines in a brilliantly handled climactic money exchange sequence, told three times over, each from the perspective of a different character; however, that sequence is an exception, for the rest of the way he uncharacteristically follows the story linearly. Naturally, this being a Tarantino film, there is also violence, but, oddly enough, these incidents are depicted with a minimum amount of bloodshed. These instances still shock, though, mostly because the actual depiction of violence is surprisingly sporadic; there is always the mere threat of it hanging in the air, and Tarantino milks that threat for maximum tension.

But what makes Jackie Brown so surprising is its (gasp) heart. For all the caper antics and profanity, the film essentially boils down to an earnest love story between Jackie and Max. At first the romantic angle plays less like a genuine angle than a joke; when Max becomes enamored of her at first sight as Bloodstone's classic "Natural High" plays in the background, it is hard not to snicker. Also pretty comical is how Max goes to Sam Goody and buys himself a tape of the Delfonics' "Didn't I Blow Your Mind This Time" (which becomes the de facto recurrent "love theme") after first hearing it at Jackie's apartment; he then plays it in his car and lipsyncs along. But the underlying romantic nature of their relationship--which is played out as a mere business alliance--is so skillfully and subtly developed that I was taken aback by how much I felt for the pair by the film's close.

Jackie and Max's likability onscreen owes a great debt to the actors who play them. As proven by his resurrection of John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, Tarantino has a great eye for forgotten talent, and he has once again hit the jackpot with Grier and Forster, who should be Oscar contenders next year. Former '70s blaxploitation queen Grier is an immensely appealing performer; not only is she blessed with a natural beauty and sexiness, she is able to project a sympathetic vulnerability even when violently showing everyone who's boss. Forster, who has long toiled in anonymity in films such as Original Gangstas (which, as it happens, also starred Grier), is more than up to the tough task of suggesting Max's love for Jackie without clearly spelling out his true intentions. As is the case with Tarantino's previous efforts, the rest of the ensemble is also solid. Jackson is his usual first-rate self, and Robert De Niro and Bridget Fonda develop an irreverent comic chemistry as Ordell's dim loser sidekick, Louis Gara, and Ordell's beach bunny stoner girlfriend, Melanie Ralston, respectively.

Jackie Brown is not a complete return to Pulp Fiction form for Tarantino; though the film is consistently engrossing, at 155 minutes, it is overlong by at least 20 minutes, and the unspectacular climax is quite disappointing, especially when compared to the terrific money exchange sequence. Nonetheless, the very well done Jackie Brown marks the welcome return of the filmmaker who revolutionized independent cinema.

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