Jackie Brown


If there was one film to see in 1997, this has to be the one. It might not have a huge budget, explosive special FX sequences or current superstars, but it’s the year’s coolest and smartest film. While it does offer hilarious dialogue and some wild outbursts, this is mostly a picture that takes the time to live with the characters instead of rushing them through plot mechanics like most Hollywood movies. That’s probably because it’s based on a novel from the great Elmore Leonard. The film is a cross between Leonard’s brilliant writing and Quentin Tarantino‘s awesome style. There are so many surprising twists in the film that it would be impossible to summarize the plot without spoiling it. Hence, what I’ll do is write about the memorable characters we meet.

Jackie Brown is played by the Queen of Blaxploitation herself, Pam Grier. Her character is kinda like those she played in the 1970s, only more mature. Grier might be older, but she’s still sexy and cool, even though she’s not posing as a whore nor karate fighting anymore. She works as a stewardess for a shitty Mexican airline, but that’s just a cover for a more rewarding occupation, bringing money illegally from Mexico to the US for an arms smuggler named Ordell Robbie. I love Grier’s style, and I love the way she deals with all the people who get in her way.

Ordell is a street-wise hustler who likes to think of himself as an international arms dealer, even though he’s just selling guns to lowlifes. Still, business’ good for him, and money ain’t a problem. Ordell’s magnificently played by Samuel L. Jackson, who also starred in Tarantino’s previous outing, Pulp Fiction. Jackson gives an even better performance here, hilarious by moments, scary as hell by others. Ordell’s the kind of guy who always tries to look as cool as possible in the way he talks and acts, but you can sense that it’s a facade. In the film, he sports long straight hair and a funky beard, like an old master in kung fu flicks, and he wears a bunch of cool Kangol clothes and hats… But in the end he’s just another dumb thug. It’s an awesome character though, and Jackson says Tarantino’s dialogue better than anyone else.

Robert De Niro plays Louis Gara, an aging career criminal who just got out of jail. You’d think he’s like every other gangster De Niro ever played, but he’s not. Louis is far from a wise guy. He’s a loser with not much brains and little ambition. He did time with Ordell some 20 years ago and now works for him, but he’s not on the same level. In fact, he’s the opposite of Ordell. He doesn’t try to look cool, and he doesn’t. He doesn’t even say much at all; most of De Niro’s performance is through body language. It’s very interesting, subtle acting work. At first, Louis seems dopey, but watch him when he gets pissed!

His funnier scenes are with Bridget Fonda, who plays Melanie, one of the broads Ordell has set up around L.A. She’s a sexy beach bunny who spent most of her life like this, living off rich men. She doesn’t do much more than getting high, watching TV and getting laid. What a life! Fonda is wonderful in the role, and you gotta love the way she plays off De Niro and Jackson.

The film’s biggest surprise is Robert Forster, who plays Max Cherry, a bittersweet 56 year old bail bondsman. Ordell often goes up to him when employees of his have to be bailed out of jail. I personally didn’t know who Forster was, besides that he was a 1970s character actor who Tarantino apparently digs. At first, I wondered why. I mean, he’s just some old guy. But as the film goes on, Forster grows on you, and by the end, you’re a fan. If Pam Grier is the soul of the movie, he’s the heart. His character is old and tired too, and meeting Jackie Brown is like being fully awake after years of sedation.

The other important character in the film is Ray Nicolet, a federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent. The character doesn’t seem exceptional initially, but if you pay attention to Michael Keaton‘s performance, you’ll get a kick out of his body language, whether he’s thinking, talking, walking or eating. I especially love how Ray is this guy who’s actually having fun being a cop. Like Ordell, he tries to be cool, but with his 1980s jacket and sunglasses, he just looks like a dumb Fed. (Ed. note: Keaton reprised the role in 1998’s Out of Sight)

What brings these people together? 500 grand in cash, multiple double crossings and a bunch of bloody executions. Jackie Brown is caught in the middle of it all, surrounded by people who each want different things from her. She’ll have to be real ingenious to find her way out. There are lots of plot twists, as well as many fun scenes that have nothing to do with the story: we’re just hanging out with the characters, getting to know them.

Many people were disappointed with “Jackie Brown” because they were expecting “Pulp Fiction 2”, but you can’t expect Tarantino to do the same film every time. Each of his three films are brilliant, but in different ways. What’s sure is that Tarantino always writes great dialogue and he makes it come to life wonderfully through his direction of actors, even down to small parts like Chris Tucker’s Beaumont. It’s only one scene, but Tucker is as hilarious as he’s ever been. I also love the Blaxploitation style Tarantino gave the film, from the main characters to the 70s soundtrack. Tarantino uses music like no other, with each tune he chooses giving a great feel to the film. You’ll never hear Didn’t I Blow Your Mind the same way again! I also love the funky 70s score, which is actually borrowed from the Pam Grier cult classic Coffy! The film also delivers visually, with many brilliant moments of filmmaking like the scene told from three different point of views and a split-screen sequence à la De Palma that works perfectly.

“Jackie Brown” is a great, quirky little film that gets better every time you watch it. It’s not about the punch-in-the-face impact of Reservoir Dogs or the wild and crazy ride that is “Pulp Fiction”, this is a “hanging out movie” (to use the same expression as Tarantino), one you want to revisit because you enjoy the characters in it, like they’re old friends you want to spend time with: good old Jackie, Max, Ray, Melanie, Louis, even Ordell…