Film Review: Jackie Brown

 

Pam Grier is the best reason to see Jackie Brown. To my shame, I’ve only seen two or three of her other films prior to watching this. Even with this limited data set, I conclude this is not a rarity nor a trend, but a law: Pam Grier is the best reason to see any movie she is in. As her prime acting years were in the ’70s, she starred in the only lead action roles available to black women: exploitation movies. Were she born a decade or two later, she’d have been a star, her name as recognizable as Sigourney Weaver’s.

In Jackie Brown, she plays the titular character, a stewardess caught by the ATF for smuggling money. Agent Ray Nicolette (Michael Keaton) is on the trail of gun runner Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson) who was to be the recipient of that smuggled cash. Ray has Jackie in a tight spot. She has a criminal record which is why she works at the lowest rent airport out there for $16,000/year (even in 1997, not much). Cooperate in busting Ordell and the ATF won’t bring the hammer down on her. On the other side, Robbie is on her case to keep quiet. He’s not above killing potential rats.

Jackie could give in to one side or the other and probably come out intact. She refuses to just skate by. She instead plays both sides, machinating to get her hands on a half million dollars Ordell has sitting in Mexico. I won’t go into the details of her plan as not to spoil the plot, but also because the mechanics of the plot aren’t ultimately what’s intriguing about the movie. Strangely for a crime thriller, the characters take precedence. You can imagine a movie about these people that is just as fascinating as this one that doesn’t involve any illicit activity.

It’s an ensemble with every part astutely realized. Robert De Niro plays former bank robber Louis Gara, an associate of Ordell’s. His hair slicked back, a mustache shrouding his upper lip, tribal tattoos snaking around his forearms, he wears a sort of lowlife uniform. Where other men are quiet or reserved, Louis just has little in his brain that might escape through his mouth. Melanie Ralston (Bridget Fonda) is another associate of Ordell’s, a “surfer chick” too perpetually stoned to be a free spirit. When she tells Louis she’s savvier about the gun-running business than Ordell, she says it nonchalantly and with religious conviction.

Sam Jackson deserves special attention. According to director Quentin Tarantino, Jackson came up with Ordell’s signature spindly beard and ponytail. It would be easy to call Ordell Robbie a retread of Jules Winnfield, Jackson’s character from Tarantino’s previous movie Pulp Fiction. This is only superficially true. Jules is a teenage boy’s platonic ideal of a hitman: cool, imposing, a dogged professional guided by a personal code. Ordell is closer to an actual criminal. He plays like he’s a Jules, but he’s more greedy, less clever than he thinks, and when he gets mad it’s his emotions getting the best of him, not an intimidation tactic.

Louis Gara (Robert De Niro) and Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson) watch a tape advertising guns.

Then there’s Pam Grier. It’s a tall order standing out against Jackson and De Niro, but she does. This being her first starring role in a mainstream film, under the then hottest director in Hollywood no less, you can imagine a version of this performance that’s more desperate to impress. Any desperation seen on screen is from her character, not her performance. Grier embodies Jackie Brown so thoroughly, I wonder if she felt some kinship to the character. Jackie is over the hill and living alone in an apartment. She’s not dumb or incompetent, but she is beaten down by life. More than the money, she wants to succeed, to come out on top for once. It is remarkable, though not often remarked on, that this is a movie about a 44-year-old—who looks like a 44-year-old woman—who is smart, bold, sexy, a badass. This is not because Tarantino was a trailblazer, but because he was a fanboy. He had posters of Pam Grier movies hanging in his office when she came to audition. He even snuck in a cameo from frequent Grier costar Sid Haig (you probably know him as Captain Spaulding, the sadist clown from Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects).

Jackie has a romance with bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster). This is a rare romance written for adults. They don’t fall madly in love. These are two people who need each other at that moment. Their attraction arises naturally from the characters and the situation they’re put in, unlike the romances shoved into so many movies that are as believable as a kid smashing together the lips of two action figures. Both people are worn out. Max sees in Jackie a woman taking charge of her life. Jackie sees in Max a man she can trust. Their story doesn’t follow the official roadmap of romance subplots.

Jackie Brown is based on the Elmore Leonard novel Rum Punch, Tarantino’s only adaptation. Tarantino is often compared to Leonard who he admits as one of his influences. I have not read Rum Punch. It is hard to know where Leonard ends and Tarantino begins. A few lines are certified Tarantino. One where Melanie corrects someone who misidentified Helmut Berger as Rutger Hauer. A mention of a “mandingo” is another. As for the rest, they’re so witty and observant who cares from whose pen they came? Being based on a novel probably helped in making this the tightest and most grounded story of Tarantino’s career. Jackie’s scheme is ingenious but not so elaborate that it could only happen in the movies.

Pam Grier is Jackie Brown.

Tarantino is the least ostentatiously Tarantino he’s ever been. It’s still one of his pictures through and through, but if you’ve struggled to like his work for being “excessive” or “indulgent”, you owe it to yourself to see this. There’s no voice-over, let alone voice-over smack in the middle of the movie, the title cards are appropriate to the scene, the soundtrack does not draw attention to itself for any reason other than the fact is a superb selection of ’60s and ’70s soul and funk—if you don’t tap your feet to The Delfonics and The Meters, you don’t like music. This is also his movie most friendly to the squeamish. His two previous films, Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction were not as violent as audiences thought they were after leaving the theater. The camera was positioned so the violence took place just off-screen, or it cut away right before impact. The violence in Jackie Brown is briefer. It lacks the spectacle of an ear being cut off or a hypodermic needle to the heart.

See the movie first for the home run performances and second for the conversations. This is full of the scenes Tarantino does best: two people talking. It is proof that if he remakes a movie it should be My Dinner With Andre.

Published in Entertainment
This post was promoted to the Main Feed by a Ricochet Editor at the recommendation of Ricochet members. Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Join Ricochet for Free.

There are 41 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter
    @JimmyCarter

    I enjoy Yer movie reviews, truly.

     

    The Girlie Show: unlike the romances shoved into so many movies that are as believable as a kid smashing together the lips of two action figures.

    Man, that cracked Me up. 

     

    • #1
  2. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Oh yes. 

     

    Across 110th Street

    Pimps trying to catch a woman that’s weak

    Across 110th Street

    Pushers won’t let the junkie go free

    Across 110th Street

    Woman trying to catch a trick on the street, ooh baby

    Across 110th Street

    You can find it all in the street

    • #2
  3. Internet's Hank Contributor
    Internet's Hank
    @HankRhody

    The Girlie Show: It is proof that if he remakes a movie it should be My Dinner With Andre.

    I’d watch it.

    • #3
  4. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    I don’t remember Rum Punch all that well.  But since Leonard is an absolute master of dialogue, my suspicion is that the movie owes him a lot.

    • #4
  5. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    I love the utter righteousness of Keaton’s FBI character, Ray. He is totally not tempted by crime.

    He basically shows up in again uncredited in Out of Sight. 

    • #5
  6. The Girlie Show Member
    The Girlie Show
    @CatIII

    Jimmy Carter (View Comment):

    The Girlie Show: unlike the romances shoved into so many movies that are as believable as a kid smashing together the lips of two action figures.

    Man, that cracked Me up.

    Won’t lie, I was proud of that line.

    • #6
  7. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    I love the utter righteousness of Keaton’s FBI character, Ray. He is totally not tempted by crime.

    He basically shows up in again uncredited in Out if Sight.

    Yes, I was trying to remember where he showed up again.  J Lo was good in that.

    The Jackson, DeNiro, and Fonda characters in Jackie Brown (Rum Punch) were “prequeled” in Leonard’s The Switch,whch never made it to the screen.

    • #7
  8. The Girlie Show Member
    The Girlie Show
    @CatIII

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    I don’t remember Rum Punch all that well. But since Leonard is an absolute master of dialogue, my suspicion is that the movie owes him a lot.

    It certainly does. I know Tarantino changed Jackie’s last name and her race. Leonard said this is his favorite adaptation of one of his books and he cares more about an adaptation being a good movie than being faithful to the source. I’m sure Tarantino put a lot of his touches in there, but Leonard dialogue is a gift most screen writers would die for. I think even Quentin knew he was working with gold. (I’m reminded of the story that the producers of Get Shorty originally rewrote Leonard’s dialogue until Travolta balked and it was changed back).

    To be fair, all Tarantino movies owe something to Elmore Leonard.

    • #8
  9. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter
    @JimmyCarter

    The Girlie Show (View Comment):

    Jimmy Carter (View Comment):

    The Girlie Show: unlike the romances shoved into so many movies that are as believable as a kid smashing together the lips of two action figures.

    Man, that cracked Me up.

    Won’t lie, I was proud of that line.

    Not gonna lie, it reminded Me of My He-Man and Teela toys kissing, keeping the story moving…

    • #9
  10. The Girlie Show Member
    The Girlie Show
    @CatIII

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    I love the utter righteousness of Keaton’s FBI character, Ray. He is totally not tempted by crime.

    Interesting detail. I had not thought of that. He has the funniest line when he’s describing the handbag on the recorder.

    He basically shows up in again uncredited in Out if Sight.

    How is Out of Sight?

    • #10
  11. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    The Girlie Show (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    I love the utter righteousness of Keaton’s FBI character, Ray. He is totally not tempted by crime.

    Interesting detail. I had not thought of that. He has the funniest line when he’s describing the handbag on the recorder.

    He basically shows up in again uncredited in Out if Sight.

    How is Out of Sight?

    I’d say it’s entertaining but not Jackie Brown good.  It has Dennis Franz, a plus, but gets a bit caught up in romance.  Caper flick and fine.

    I’d go with the forgotten 52 Pick-Up for more Leonard, with Frankenheimer directing.

    • #11
  12. Internet's Hank Contributor
    Internet's Hank
    @HankRhody

    The Girlie Show (View Comment):

    How is Out of Sight?

    You haven’t seen it?

    Figures.

    • #12
  13. The Girlie Show Member
    The Girlie Show
    @CatIII

    Internet's Hank (View Comment):

    The Girlie Show (View Comment):

    How is Out of Sight?

    You haven’t seen it?

    Figures.

    I just got around to Jackie Brown last Thursday. I’m doing the best I can.

    • #13
  14. Internet's Hank Contributor
    Internet's Hank
    @HankRhody

    The Girlie Show (View Comment):

    Internet’s Hank (View Comment):

    The Girlie Show (View Comment):

    How is Out of Sight?

    You haven’t seen it?

    Figures.

    I just got around to Jackie Brown last Thursday. I’m doing the best I can.

    I’m not blaming you; how could you see it if it’s out of sight?

    • #14
  15. The Girlie Show Member
    The Girlie Show
    @CatIII

    Internet's Hank (View Comment):

    The Girlie Show (View Comment):

    Internet’s Hank (View Comment):

    The Girlie Show (View Comment):

    How is Out of Sight?

    You haven’t seen it?

    Figures.

    I just got around to Jackie Brown last Thursday. I’m doing the best I can.

    I’m not blaming you; how could you see it if it’s out of sight?

    Guess it’s ironic that I didn’t see what you did there.

    • #15
  16. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

     

    The Girlie Show (View Comment):

    Internet’s Hank (View Comment):

    The Girlie Show (View Comment):

    How is Out of Sight?

    You haven’t seen it?

    Figures.

    I just got around to Jackie Brown last Thursday. I’m doing the best I can.

    I’m curious as to how you picked it.

    Someone here —don’t think it was you—was knocking Jackson in Pulp Fiction as “just Jackson being Jackson again.”  So is that true of this?  I sure don’t think so.

    • #16
  17. The Girlie Show Member
    The Girlie Show
    @CatIII

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    The Girlie Show (View Comment):

    Internet’s Hank (View Comment):

    The Girlie Show (View Comment):

    How is Out of Sight?

    You haven’t seen it?

    Figures.

    I just got around to Jackie Brown last Thursday. I’m doing the best I can.

    I’m curious as to how you picked it.

    I’ve had this Tarantino box set for a few years. JB is one I’ve wanted to watch for a long time, but just never got around to it. It and Death Proof are the only features he’s directed that I hadn’t seen. Now it’s just DP.

    True Romance is in that collection too so need to get around to that as well. Also need to track down Natural Born Killers.

    Now I’m wanting to rewatch his movies. There’s one I’ll be reviewing for sure, and I think I’ll do a post exploring his whole career.

    Someone here —don’t think it was you—was knocking Jackson in Pulp Fiction as “just Jackson being Jackson again.” So is that true of this? I sure don’t think so.

    I don’t think so either. I can understand that view at first glance, though.

    • #17
  18. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Jackson often plays the same part in a functional sense, but his characters are distinct from each other which is a testament to both his craft and his good fortune in being the first name in Tarantino’s Rolodex. 

    • #18
  19. AMD Texas Member
    AMD Texas
    @DarinJohnson

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    I don’t remember Rum Punch all that well. But since Leonard is an absolute master of dialogue, my suspicion is that the movie owes him a lot.

    Beking familiar with both, don’t count Tarantino out in that regard.

    • #19
  20. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Fun StadFact:

    My wife went to same high school as Pam Grier.

    • #20
  21. Mad Gerald Coolidge
    Mad Gerald
    @Jose

    Jackie Brown is my favorite Tarentino movie.  In fact, I’m about done with his movies.  It seems like they are plagued by interminable dialogs, or monologues,   with brief interruptions of splattering blood.

    Jackie has a romance with bailbondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster). This is a rare romance written for adults. They don’t fall madly in love. These are two people who need each other at that moment. Their attraction arises naturally from the characters and the situation they’re put in, unlike the romances shoved into so many movies that are as believable as a kid smashing together the lips of two action figures. Both people are worn out. Max sees in Jackie a woman taking charge of her life. Jackie sees in Max a man she can trust. Their story doesn’t follow the official roadmap of romance subplots.

    Character Max Cherry is an old guy with visible hair plugs.  No idea if that was really was Robert Forster’s hair, but it shows how realistic the characters were.

    • #21
  22. The Girlie Show Member
    The Girlie Show
    @CatIII

    Stad (View Comment):

    Fun StadFact:

    My wife went to same high school as Pam Grier.

    Cool fact. Any interesting stories to go with it? Did your wife at least have an inkling Grier would become a celebrity?

    • #22
  23. The Girlie Show Member
    The Girlie Show
    @CatIII

    Mad Gerald (View Comment):

    Character Max Cherry is an old guy with visible hair plugs. No idea if that was really was Robert Forster’s hair, but it shows how realistic the characters were.

    Also, several shots feature his bald spot prominently. I bet a lot of actors wouldn’t be game for that. There is a line of dialogue where Cherry admits to getting plugs.

    • #23
  24. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    AMD Texas (View Comment):

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    I don’t remember Rum Punch all that well. But since Leonard is an absolute master of dialogue, my suspicion is that the movie owes him a lot.

    Beking familiar with both, don’t count Tarantino out in that regard.

    I don’t disagree, but Tarantino is, at a minimum, working from Leonard’s template in terms of character and dialogue.

    As an aside, Bridget Fonda is also great in this.

    • #24
  25. The Girlie Show Member
    The Girlie Show
    @CatIII

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    As an aside, Bridget Fonda is also great in this.

    She is. One of many wonderful performances that get overshadowed. Chris Tucker is also great in his brief scene that I didn’t get around to mentioning.

    • #25
  26. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    The Girlie Show (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    Fun StadFact:

    My wife went to same high school as Pam Grier.

    Cool fact. Any interesting stories to go with it? Did your wife at least have an inkling Grier would become a celebrity?

    Grier was one year ahead of my wife.  She said Grier was really nice, but didn’t know her personally.

    • #26
  27. Pagodan Member
    Pagodan
    @MatthewBaylot

    The Girlie Show (View Comment):

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    The Girlie Show (View Comment):

    Internet’s Hank (View Comment):

    The Girlie Show (View Comment):

    How is Out of Sight?

    You haven’t seen it?

    Figures.

    I just got around to Jackie Brown last Thursday. I’m doing the best I can.

    I’m curious as to how you picked it.

    I’ve had this Tarantino box set for a few years. JB is one I’ve wanted to watch for a long time, but just never got around to it. It and Death Proof are the only features he’s directed that I hadn’t seen. Now it’s just DP.

    True Romance is in that collection too so need to get around to that as well. Also need to track down Natural Born Killers.

    Now I’m wanting to rewatch his movies. There’s one I’ll be reviewing for sure, and I think I’ll do a post exploring his whole career.

    Someone here —don’t think it was you—was knocking Jackson in Pulp Fiction as “just Jackson being Jackson again.” So is that true of this? I sure don’t think so.

    I don’t think so either. I can understand that view at first glance, though.

    True Romance is one of my favorite “Tarantino movies” (one version of the story says he sold that script in order to get fund Resevoir Dogs.) It has the same exploitation, grindhouse, comic book, cinema geek point of view, but directed by Tony Scott. Like his brother Ridley, late 80′ early 90’s Tony Scott movies had a distinct glossy /glam vibe (think Top Gun, The Last Boyscout) that, IMHO, clicks just right with Tarantino’s script.

    Also fun to watch just to spot the all the familiar faces that pop up like Dennis Hopper, a very brief and mostly off screen Val Kilmer, Christopher Walken, Michael Rappaport, James Gandolfini, Brad Pitt, and maybe one of Gary Oldman’s best character acting performances ever. 

    PS Great review btw… I found myself nodding along the entire way. 

    • #27
  28. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    I showed a bunch of Pam Grier’s first films, in actual 42nd Street grindhouses: The Big Doll House, Black Mama, White Mama; Coffy; Scream Blacula Scream. In those days, the main thing you’d hear about her was, “Hey, she’s Rosie Grier’s cousin!”

    • #28
  29. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    I showed a bunch of Pam Grier’s first films, in actual 42nd Street grindhouses: The Big Doll House, Black Mama, White Mama; Coffy; Scream Blacula Scream. In those days, the main thing you’d hear about her was, “Hey, she’s Rosie Grier’s cousin!”

    I definitely saw Coffy and liked it.

    And I remember Rosie playing for the Giants.  Yikes!

    • #29
  30. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    My first shift as a projectionist was running Scream, Blacula, Scream on a double bill with Sugar Hill. The theater manager was black, and too cheap to pay to fix the machines. The light kept going out and the patrons went nuts. The manager would smile serenely. “Well, we promised them the black motion picture experience, didn’t we?”

    • #30
Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.