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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 Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

When Jack Dawson held Rose De Witt Bukalter at the aft of the Titanic in the Jack Cameron movie of that name, he said, "Do you trust me?" Rose did. She held her arms wide and leaned over the swirling waters of the North Atlantic ocean. Her confidence proved accurate. Though Jack seemed irresponsible as seen through the eyes of the upper-class passengers who scorned his class, he is consistently accountable--far more so than the snobs riding the ship on the upper deck.

By contrast, Quentin Tarantino's film "Jackie Brown," among the most talked-about openings of the year, features a parade of characters who are the very antithesis of trustworthiness. They lie, cheat, steal, and above all betray one another to such a degree that we wonder whether any criminals would be caught without the betrayals of their fellow lawbreakers-- who are willing to tell all to the authorities if such disclosures would save their tails. With the one exception--a rare relationship between the title character played by Pam Grier and an honest, but burned-out bail bondsman performed with particularly quiet eloquence by Robert Forster--"Jackie Brown" holds that there is no honor among thieves.

Given Quentin Tarantino's audacious, film "Pulp Fiction" three years back, it's no wonder that this one is being received with impressive anticipation. While some may leave this drawn-out episode disappointed in its relatively mild tone (most of the violence takes places off camera), others will cheer Tarantino's reigning in of mayhem to concentrate on the developing connection between the white bail bondsman and the black stewardess. There is much to cheer in the film. Based on Elmore Leonard's novel "Rum Punch," Tarantino's screenplay highlights witty dialogue, hard-edged action, and most of all an attitude toward crime which is joky without being irresponsibly dismissive. Pam Grier's casting in the central role of a seemingly defenseless, down-and-out woman in her forties rather than a post-pubescent bimbo, is daring enough at a time that Hollywood has scant enough lead roles for females in obvious middle age.

The opening moments set the tone. As the credits role, Jackie is shown heading through the corridors of Los Angeles airport like an icon, her stony face and Mona Lisa smile projecting both determination and vulnerability. Stopped at one point by two law-enforcement officials, one from the Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco Agency (Michael Keaton), the other from the L.A.P.D. (Michael Bowen), she is busted for smuggling in $50,000 cash which she retrieved from her departure airport in Mexico and asked to cooperate in return for a reduced sentence. Her initial reluctance to collaborate followed by her apparent willingness to help the officials catch bigger prey is just one example of the betrayals which flood the film from its cynical beginning to its stifled upbeat windup.

In the role of chief villain, Samuel L. Jackson proves once again that no one else can read Tarantino's dialogue or respond to his direction like him. Playing a salesmen of illegal firearms who has hired Jackie Brown to bring $500,000 which he has stashed in Mexico, Jackson is Ordell Robbie, a intimidating man with blazing eyes, a fierce determination, a set of impossibly ludicrous wigs, and an apparent loyalty to his small gang of petty thieves. He keeps the beautiful but perpetually stoned Melanie (Bridget Fonda) as one would tend a pet Afghan, at one time encouraging his bank-robber henchman Louis (Robert De Niro) to enjoy her supple frame. His only fear--that members of his band may talk if arrested and promised a deal by the prosecutors--keeps his trigger- finger itchy. His casual execution of Beamont Livingston (Chris Tucker), whom he bails out of jail, cajoles into the trunk of his car, and then shoots, is shown in Tarantino's typical clowning style. Tucker, a fast-talking veteran of prancing pictures like "Money Talks" and "House Party 3," is his usual self here, refusing at first to stash himself in that closed compartment, then coaxed into it by the man who got him released from prison.

After Jackie Brown's arrest, Ordell's defense are again up, but he appears for a while to trust her to carry in the remainder of his loot with the promise of a decent commission. Little realizing that his nemesis would be not the L.A.P.D. or the A.F.T., but rather a middle-aged, middle-class white man who befriends Jackie and identifies with her even to the extent of buying soulful tapes for his car radio, he remains only dimly aware that Jackie would expertly play Ordell off against both the authorities and the members of his gang.

In the movie's most structurally effective scene, Tarantino hones in on a scam which takes place in a boutique shop involving Jackie's switching of shopping bags with Melanie. The scene is shown from three points of view: from that of Jackie, who slips the bag with the alleged $500,000 under the dressing room door to Melanie; from that of Melanie, who soon has a tussle with Louis for possession of the bag; and from that of Max Cherry, the bondsman who watches all with a sly smile of appreciation on his somewhat wan but curiously attentive face.

The success of Tarantino's "Jackie Brown" as a wily parable of crime and its consequences poses a challenge to Spike Lee's view that primarily black movies must be helmed by black directors. Featuring a great soundtrack and a panoramic view of assorted banal locales in southern California, "Jackie Brown" is a slick, sly, soulful story of paranoia, misgivings, a dominant theme of vengeance and a tone of whimsy.

Copyright 1997 Harvey Karten

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