Aside from "Reservoir Dogs" and "Pulp Fiction," Quentin Tarantino has not
exactly grabbed audiences with some of his later work. Anyone care to remember
his minute directing bit for the awful anthology "Four Rooms"? Except for the
over-the-top "From Dusk Till Dawn," Tarantino was in danger of overexposure
since he appeared in dozens of less-than-wonderful supporting roles in other
directors' movies. Now, at last, comes Tarantino's first major film as writer
and director since "Pulp Fiction," and what a joy it is to see him back.
"Jackie Brown" is Tarantino at the top of his game - foul-mouthed, wickedly
funny writing with ball-of-fire performances by the whole cast.
The titled character is played by glamorous, former blaxploitation star Pam
Grier as a 44-year-old airline stewardess who's carrying smuggled money from
Mexico to a suave arms dealer, Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson). Jackie,
however, is eventually apprehended and arrested by two ATF agents (Michael
Keaton and Michael Bowen) as she arrives in California. She doesn't want to
spend the rest of her days in jail so she cuts a deal with the agents to
double-cross Ordell (and, naturally, the agents) out of his remaining
half-million dollar stash. The switchover is to take place in a less
conspicuous rendezvous - a mall.
Ordell's own life is always on the fringe. He has to contend with his beach
bunny, pot-smoking girlfriend Melanie (Bridget Fonda) who reluctantly answers
his business calls, and his sedate partner Louis Gara (Robert De Niro) who
continually smokes pot with Melanie. Ordell bails out Jackie by talking to the
taciturn, sensible bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster) who has been in
the business for far too long. When Max escorts Jackie out of jail, he becomes
deeply smitten by her. She loves the Delfonics, particularly on vinyl. He goes
out and buys the album on cassette, not understanding why she hasn't succumbed
to the "CD revolution." What develops is a sweet, subtle love story that is
quite unusual for Tarantino, but he handles it with grace and vigor.
"Jackie Brown" is an unusual crime picture - it is slow, stately and handled
with refreshing restraint. There are no car chases, no heads are blown up and
there's not much gunfire. There are only four murders in the entire film and
they are handled discreetly. Did I say this was a crime picture? You bet. If
you're expecting the loud, pumped up volume of Quentin's earlier work, you'll
be sorely disappointed. Based on Elmore Leonard's solidly good crime novel "Rum
Punch," Tarantino's colorful, fast-talking writing is the movie's main star,
and his rhythmic dialogue has not failed him.
Another major plus is the star-studded performances. Samuel L. Jackson is
terrifically engaging as the murderous, long-haired Ordell who is
simultaneously trying to support three different girlfriends and run a
business. He has a great scene, one of several, where he tries to coax "former
employee" Beaumont (Chris Tucker) into going in the trunk of his car.
Robert De Niro does a great job playing the unbelievably stupid, oily Louis who
has a brief fling with Melanie. De Niro goes ballistic towards the end (during
the switchover) in one of the most riotous scenes in the movie. Bridget Fonda
is also cast against type as the flirty, naive Melanie who claims to "know as
much about guns as Ordell does."
Pam Grier and Robert Forster, however, are the main attractions of this film.
They both imbue the screen with a certain maturity and level of growing old
with grace that is both sweet and regaling. Grier exudes sex appeal, toughness,
charm and intelligence in various stages of distress and romantic interludes -
she has no qualms about sticking a gun at Ordell's privates. Forster gives a
beautifully modulated performance of understated humor and panache; it is one
of his best character roles since "Medium Cool." Academy Award nominations are
certainly in order here.
"Jackie Brown" is longish and suffers somewhat from Michael Keaton's mannered
performance, but it is always entertaining and involving. It brims with many
pleasures and surprises, and there are the trademark pop-culture references and
sudden shocks of violence that are a major part of Tarantino terrain. Chock
full of snappy 70's tunes, "Jackie Brown" is Quentin's most accomplished work
by far - a twisty, exhilarating, revisionist take on film noir crossed with
Copyright © 1997 Jerry Saravia