Wednesday, November 07, 2012
Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 7/26/05 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.
Based on the novel Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard, Jackie Brownis the story of a stewardess/part-time drug smuggler who gets caught in an embezzlement scam where she's asked by ATF agents to nail her arms dealer friend as she seeks help from a bails bondsman who falls for her. Written for the screen and directed by Quentin Tarantino, the film is another exploration into the world of crime as Tarantino goes for a very different approach as it would have Tarantino injecting romance into the story. Playing the titular character is 70s Blaxploitation star Pam Grier as it would be the role that would mark her comeback. Also Tarantino regular Samuel L. Jackson, Robert de Niro, Bridget Fonda, Chris Tucker, Michael Keaton, and Robert Forster. Jackie Brown is a captivating yet enchanting film from Quentin Tarantino.
After getting a call from his associate Beaumont (Chris Tucker) who had been arrested for drug and weapons possession, arms dealer Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson) turns to bails bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster) to bail Beaumont out. Robbie later meets with Beaumont who is expected to serve some time as Robbie would provide a solution for Beaumont. Meanwhile, Robbie's friend Jackie Brown is arrested by ATF agents Ray Nicolette (Michael Keaton) and Dargas (Michael Bowen) who found a bag of narcotics in her possession. Put in prison with a bail of $10,000, Robbie sends Cherry to bail out Brown where Cherry is smitten by her on the night he picks her up where the two have a drink together at a bar. Robbie later meets Jackie who is upset over what happened yet wants to make a deal with Jackie to get $500,000 out from Mexico so that Robbie can retire.
Though Jackie makes a deal with Robbie, she also to Nicolette about what Robbie is planning as Nicolette wants to go after Robbie over illegal arms sales. With Jackie's deal with Robbie set where Jackie gets a cut, Robbie's old friend Louis hears about the deal from one of Robbie's girlfriends in Melanie (Bridget Fonda). The two decide to make a plan of their own to steal the money from Robbie for themselves. Jackie decides to let Max in on the scheme as she believes that Max is the only person she can trust as he's eager to get out of the bonds business following a near-fatal incident. With a local mall for the money drop and exchange where a trial run with two of Robbie's women goes wrong, Jackie and Robbie decide to do it themselves to get it right. With Nicolette knowing what's going to happen with Max knowing much more, the exchange goes on as planned. Yet, a major screw-up involving Melanie and Louis leads to trouble forcing Robbie to go after Max and Jackie.
While the film, in comparison to other Tarantino scripts and films, Jackie Brown does lack a bit of the pop culture references that always pop up in the dialogue or in a frame. Tarantino gets away from that for something that is more character-driven and it's his most mature work to date. The writing structure Tarantino goes for is more traditional except for the heist scene where it's done in three different perspectives. While Tarantino is often considered a great filmmaker in his unique approach to the crime film genre. It is so easy to forget that he's a writer first. In the way he adapted Leonard's novel into a subdued crime drama, Tarantino goes more for motivation and choices in his scripts where the characters all have something to offer.
Even the subplot involving characters, notably the attraction of Max and Jackie works and it's an example of Tarantino working in a format of romance which he succeeds. The script doesn't even lose itself in its pacing or its intentions since it's a part-character study story but also a wonderful crime story with a bit of romance and comedy. While there is the use of the "N" word throughout the script and film, it's not that harmful since it's said through characters. The "N" word was used by Blaxploitation writers for years and Tarantino is basically wearing a mask to pretend that he's a black writer. Tarantino is just being earnest in not just to those iconic characters he loved but to the genre itself.
In the directing front, Tarantino uses his tricks of steadicams, dolly tracks, and wonderful camera angles to establish a lot of the moments that is happening. Yet those tricks still work, even in the way Tarantino wanted to have an authenticity to the film. The film looks like it was made in the 70s from its opening credits and scene while it gives the movie a sense of style with some substance. One of the best scenes that Tarantino directed that included long shots is the money exchange sequence where its done in three different perspective that all doesn't lose it pace nor does it confuse its audience. Overall, Tarantino creates a truly engaging and well-crafted film that explores the world of crime and the desire to go straight.
Helping Tarantino capturing the authenticity is cinematographer Guillermo Navarro who uses natural, grainy colors to give the film a 70s look, notably in the interior sequences of bars and taverns that has that classic 1970s feel. Navarro and Tarantino manages to capture a look that is distinct and nostalgic. Tarantino's longtime production designer David Wasco and his art team of art director Dan Bradford and set designer Sandy Reynolds-Wasco help give the film that authentic look for its apartments and homes of the characters that is filled with wonderful props to 70s soul music and vinyl while capturing the natural quality of the taverns. Even costume designer Mary Claire Hannan help give the film a wonderful look in the costumes, especially the clothes of Pam Grier who makes sure she looks good. Tarantino's longtime editor Sally Menke gives the film a nicely, leisurely pace and feel to her editing style where at about 155-minutes, the film doesn't feel slow or too fast. Even the film sounds great from sound designer Mark Ulano who helps creates the tension of sound for the film.
Then there's the film's music which is filled with wonderful soul classics plus a bit of hip-hop, rock, and country music. Many of the film's 70s soul classics comes from the likes of Bobby Womack, the Delfonics, Brothers Johnson, Pam Grier, Bill Withers, the Meters, and also Jermaine Jackson, the Supremes, the Grassroots, Foxy Brown, Roy Ayers, and the late Johnny Cash. Tarantino's use of music is often in tune with the characters, including a scene where Jackie plays a Delfonics cut in which Max falls in love with it becomes his theme. It's one of the best pieces and utilization of a song for a character and his development.
Finally, there's the film's amazing cast with some memorable small performances and cameos from Aimee Graham as mall clerk, Hattie Winston and Lisa Gay Hamilton as Ordell's women, Sid Haig as a judge, Tom "Tiny" Lister Jr. as one of Max's bondsman, and Michael Bowen in a memorable performance as Nicolette's partner Dargas. Chris Tucker is funny in a small but memorable role as one of Ordell's boys who gets busted as he has a great moment arguing with Jackson about getting to a dirty trunk of his car. Michael Keaton is wonderfully subdued as the intelligent and earnest Ray Nicolette with his desire to capture Ordell and help Jackie where he becomes an unlikely ally in a masterful performance.
Bridget Fonda is wonderful and sexy as the stoned beach bunny Melanie who might seem like a stoner looking for a good time on the surface but Fonda gives her depth as a woman who knows what's going on while in the exchange sequence, seems more professional than anyone thinks. Robert de Niro gives a quiet and humorous performance as Louis who likes to do nothing but get stoned and watch TV while on a crime spree, he is paranoid and reckless. Though it's de Niro doing comedy, his restraint and recklessness gives the film some nice humor.
Samuel L. Jackson gives another great performance as the charming but vicious Ordell Robbie with his cool demeanor and witty approach to business. Jackson gives the character a lot of likeable qualities as well as intimidating ones. He's a businessman and a charmer but when you cross him, you know you're in trouble as Jackson gives a great performance. The best male performance of the film belongs to Robert Forster as the good-hearted Max Cherry. Forster brings a wise yet cautious performance of a man doing the right thing in every way or form, even if it involves crime. Forster has wonderful moments with Jackson but it's with Pam Grier, Forster is in top form as he and Grier carry great chemistry as Forster plays a reluctant love interest with a lot of heart who is smitten by Grier. It's without a doubt one of the best performances that year.
Pam Grier gives her most brilliant performance to date that just doesn't remind everyone of her iconic status but a woman who still got the chops as an actress. This is Grier in classic form as she proves herself to be both tough and charismatic. She carries the dialogue with a sense of wit and ease while proving that she's still a foxy lady. Grier has great scenes with Jackson and Keaton but her best moments is with Forster as she gives a character that isn't a bad woman but one who will do anything to make money and do what is right for her.
Jackie Brown is an outstanding film from Quentin Tarantino that features an incredible lead performance from Pam Grier as well as remarkable supporting work from Robert Forster, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Keaton, Bridget Fonda, and Robert de Niro. Armed with amazing visual tricks, great scenery set-ups, and a fantastic soundtrack, the film is truly a majestic piece of work that does a lot more for the world of the crime film. While it's the most restrained film that Tarantino has done, it also showcases the kind of range he has as a storyteller. In the end, Jackie Brown is a triumphant yet heartfelt film from Quentin Tarantino.
Quentin Tarantino Films: Reservoir Dogs - Pulp Fiction - Four Rooms: The Man from Hollywood - Kill Bill - Grindhouse: Death Proof - Inglourious Basterds - Django Unchained - The Hateful Eight - Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood
Related: The Auteurs #17: Quentin Tarantino - Growing Up with Quentin Tarantino
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