Saturday, September 19, 2009

JACKIE BROWN (Quentin Tarantino, 1997, USA) Jackie Brown is always starting over; fearing her middle-aged life has become grounded under the weight of a few ounces of cocaine and $50,000 cash. Desperate, she schemes to play the Feds against the gunrunning criminal Ordell Robbie and come out with nearly half a million dollars: enough money to retire and buy a future of moderate comfort and relaxation. Director Quentin Tarantino begins with a wonderful tracking shot of the lovely Jackie Brown (gracefully portrayed by Pam Grier) as she prepares for work, gliding along the airport terminal like a bored Benjamin Braddock; the camera seems to caress her beautiful visage and alluring profile while Bobby Womack’s funky score sets the film’s tempo. Tarantino eschews his elliptical narrative patterns and tells a straightforward story, though he uses split-screen to great effect and shows us the final money exchange from three different points-of-view. Samuel L. Jackson imbues his character Ordell Robbie with the perfect balance of homicidal energy and human emotion, showing a tainted affection for his “little surfer girl”. Robert DeNiro as Robbie’s accomplice is thankfully minimal, allowing him to be a mostly silent partner. The revelation is the gifted performance by Robert Forster whose face is a roadmap of a hard life: he is able to infuse a strict humane morality and unassuming desire into Bail Bondsman Max Cherry (great name!), and we must believe in his breech of ethical conduct for the plot to work. Tarantino smartly focuses upon Jackie and Max instead of utilizing slick editing techniques and shocking gore, and tells a believable and touching romance without a single sex scene or exploitive skin shot. The soundtrack pumps the film with synergistic energy, communicating emotions through R&B classics and punctuated rhythms: from the sweet soulful Delfonics to the sweaty nights of Harlem in Womack’s vibrant Across 110th Street…and even the gravel voiced poetry of Johnny Cash. Based upon the Elmore Leonard novel RUM PUNCH, the plot has one divisive fault: when Beaumont is arrested for possession of drugs and a firearm while on probation, this would be an non-bailable offense as a detainer would be placed against him. The story doesn’t work without setting him up for the fatal fall, a precursor to Jackie’s likely future. But stranger things have happened in an overburdened Court System so this isn’t necessarily an impossible event…just very unlikely. Finally, Jackie and Max share a brief kiss before going their own way: for Max, it’s life as usual and for the fiercely independent Ms. Brown…her heart has become as savory as a Cherry. (A)


Shubhajit said...

This is indeed the only straightforward thriller that Tarantino has directed. It being sans any of the exhibitionism, pastiches, high-octane energy and Tarantino-talk - stuff that Tarantino's movies are knows for - is perhaps the principal reason for its relative anonymity among his oeuvre.

Loved the line "Jackie Brown ... gliding along the airport terminal like a bored Benjamin Braddock". Nice observation.

Samuel Wilson said...

But there are characteristic Tarantino touches in the film, the foot fetish being blatantly on display. Nevertheless, Jackie Brown represents a road not taken in which Tarantino would put his ear for character in the service of a classical character-driven linear narrative. Instead, he seems more unwilling than unable to tell a straight story, for whatever reason. The results have still been more impressive than not, but Jackie Brown remains the exceptional triumph of substance over style in his career.

Alex DeLarge said...

Though I generally like his quicksilver style, it sometimes gets in the way of characterization. Here he is able to create empethetic people and not just "talking heads" who spout hilarious and sometimes enlightening epithets.

And I had to watch JACKIE BROWN again to cleans my palate after the disasterous INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (see review below).

Thanks for your insight gentleman:)

24 Hours to Midnight said...

I first tried to watch Jackie Brown in 1998, and again sometime in the early 2000s. Fell asleep both times. I'm a QT fan, so I was always apprehensive about trying it again, since I didn't want to watch a big dull dud directed by someone I held in high esteem. Anyway, I finally sat down and watched it.

Having seen the rest of his films, I felt I enjoyed Jackie Brown a great deal more since I was able to catch more of the characteristic touches, and the little bits of dialogue that pop up in a number of his movies.

Still, the first half is SO SLOW. All set up for the caper. I thought it could've USED a few more of QT's less subtle pastiches to punch it up. I think after Jackie Brown, he got downright gleeful with these flourishes. It's not for everyone, but it worked for me.

Speaking of what worked, that kiss at the end was absolutely perfect.

Fletch said...

I love the pace of the film. It's deliberately slow, and you can tell that it was given a lot of time and attention, especially with the third act, which plays out practically in real time.

I think there's plenty of "Tarantino talk" (most notably during the scenes with DeNiro/Jackson/Fonda, but it never bothered me in the slightest. It's far and away the most real of QT's flicks, and the performances are the glue that keep it all together. So, so, so glad he went with Forster and Grier as his leads.

Alex DeLarge said...

Agree Fletch! Great casting and a film where all the pieces fit just right.