Jackie Brown

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Director: Quentin Tarantino.
Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino.
Starring: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster, Robert DeNiro, Bridget Fonda, Michael Keaton, Chris Tucker, Michael Bowen, Tommy “Tiny” Lister, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Hattie Winston, Sid Haig.

AK-47. The very best there is. When you absolutely, positively got to kill every motherfucker in the room, accept no substitutes“.

After “Reservoir Dogs” in 1991 and “Pulp Fiction” in 1994, Quentin Tarantino was hailed as the new wunderkind of contemporary American cinema with his triumphant originality and seemingly effortless ability to excite audiences. However, there were still claims of him borrowing heavily from other movies and despite the second feature from a new filmmaker predominantly being the ‘tricky one’, it seemed that it was Tarantino’s third that posed this problem for him. Added to which, he still had a few doubters wondering if he could emulate his previous successes.

In trying to make ends meet, middle-aged air hostess, Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) is also a courier for local gun-smuggler Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson) but when federal agent Ray Nicolette (Michael Keaton) and LA cop Mark Dargas (Michael Bowen) get wind of her plans she faces time in jail. With the help of bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster), Jackie hatches a scam to play the police and her boss off one another.

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As a big fan of crime writer Elmore Leonard and, in particular, his novel “Rum Punch” (upon which this is an adaptation), I was admittedly left with feelings of disappointment when I first seen “Jackie Brown“. I was unimpressed and even entertained the thought that Tarantino’s critics may well have been right. Upon repeat viewings though, it becomes apparent just how good a film it really is. For the most part, Tarantino resists the temptation of his usual pop-cultural references or the gratuitous violence that his name had become synonymous with. Instead, he opts for a more subtle and leisurely approach and in doing so, allows his actors the space to develop their characters and the drama to unfold at it’s own pace. Again, it could also be said that Tarantino pays yet more homage to films of the past. He changed the ethnicity of the lead female character in Leonard’s novel from the white Jackie Burke to a black Jackie Brown which allowed him to cast Pam Grier and reference her blaxploitation films “Foxy Brown” and “Coffy” as well as, employing the use of Bobby Womack’s “Across 110th Street“. In no way is this a blaxploitation film. It’s much broader than that but certainly has some hallmarks from that particular sub-genre.

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As for Grier, herself, it’s a bold move by Tarantino to cast her in the lead and essentially structure the film around her. Many have applauded this casting choice (I mean, let’s face it, Tarantino rarely gets it wrong and has resurrected a few careers in his day) but I think I’m one of the few who actually thinks that Grier’s performance is a little stretched at times. With the abundance of talent around her, she seems to play her hand a little too forcefully and has a tendency to overact. That being said, it would be hard not to play it this way when the company she’s keeping are as strong as they are: Tarantino’s go-to man for dialogue delivery – Samuel L. Jackson – echoes Pulp’s Jules Winnfield, only this time his gun-running Ordell Robbie has less biblical monologues and more of a dangerous cutting edge; Bridget Fonda plays his vacuous beach blonde accomplice to perfection while Michael Keaton’s doggedly determined ATF agent Ray Nicolette has the requisite cocksure arrogance. The biggest revelation, though, is Robert Forster’s Oscar nominated turn as bale bondsman Max Cherry. Forster achieved some acclaimed film and television performances throughout the 1960’s and 70’s but eventually fell into obscurity before Tarantino revived his career with this role. On this evidence it’s hard to see why Robert Forster disappeared for so long. His work here is a nuanced and very subtle piece of work – which brings me to the other Robert…

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Most of you will be aware of my fondness for all all things DeNiro but his work here is one of his most under-appreciated. While everyone around him sink their teeth into there colourful characters, his stoned ex-convict Louis Gara is left to sit in the background with very little to say or do. Leave it to DeNiro then, to bring this character to life; his glazed look and awkward social communication is pitched so well that it’s hard to take your eyes off him. When he is given something to do, though, DeNiro brings this subdued character’s volatility to the surface with dangerous and convincing results. Rarely have I seen him steal so many scenes by practically doing nothing and even though he’s seriously under-utilised, this is one of my favourite performances of his.

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Not as well received on its release as the exceptional “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction” but over the years this has gradually gained the respect that it deserves and, to this day, stands as one of Tarantino’s finest and most mature outings.

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Mark Walker

Trivia: Sylvester Stallone originally wanted to play DeNiro’s character of Louis, while John Travolta was the first choice to play Keaton’s Ray Nicollete.

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64 Responses to “Jackie Brown”

  1. Totally agree Mark. I haven’t seen it in a while but it’s such a shame there was such disappointment surrounding it at the time of release. I guess a lot of people just wanted Pulp Fiction Mk II, and its a shame it suffered just from being far less flashy (though it definitely has its moments). I was disappointed when I first saw it, too, but after watching it again a few years back away from all the hype it completely changed my mind – it’s clear it’s made by a master. The casting of Grier and Forster for the two main roles was inspired, and that scene that’s played out over and over with the different perspectives is one of Tarantino’s finest moments to date. Nice review, enjoyed it.

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    • Cheer buddy! It’s definitely one of those films that gets better with every viewing. Expectations were very high when released but realistically QT was never going to top Pulp Fiction. Over the years, this has proven to be a sublime piece of work and that different perspective scene is definitely one of Tarantino’s finest. It’s masterfully structured.

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  2. Nice review. When I first saw Jackie Brown, I had to admit I was bit disappointed, but over the years have gone to really like it..

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  3. Such a great film. I love DeNiro in this one too!

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    • It’s brilliant isn’t it? Great to hear from someone else who appreciates DeNiro in this too. He’s so often overlooked but he has a very strong screen presence and he doesn’t even have to say anything.

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  4. I loved Jackie Brown and completely agree about De Niro’s underrated performance. My eyes were stuck to him in every scene he was a part of. Great review!

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    • Ah! Another DeNiro fan? Fantastic!

      He was superb in this. Even when Sam Jackson is spouting off some juicy dialogue, I sat there and watched DeNiro stare into space. He’s captivating and brings a depth to the character that was probably not there on paper.

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      • Big Bobby fan! And I agree, you do get the impression that perhaps on paper his character wasn’t as realised, but De Niro plays it in such a way that you can’t not watch him, can’t not be on the edge of your seat waiting for this guy to crack. It’s just bubbling there under the surface.

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      • I couldn’t have said it any better myself. That’s exactly how DeNiro plays and it’s a masterful piece of work. Never in your face but subtly bubbling over. The scenes involving him with the actual handover and an extremely irritating (and well played) Bridget Fonda bring it all to a head. You can see the stress and beads of sweat on his brow. He’s nervy, twitchy and ready to crack. Just wonderful stuff.

        Not to mention, when he’s stoned out his face and trying to untangle the telephone wire while and important discussion is going on. It’s so well played.

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  5. Good call. Agree 100%

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  6. Very strong review. On many points I agree (Jackie Greer and De Niro’s performances amongst them). But, I still think this film is flawed, on its own terms, not just in comparison to Tarrantino’s great early flicks.

    That said, is it a miss? Not exactly. It’s just not the rousing success so many other Tarrantino films are.

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    • Thanks man! On a first viewing I felt it wasn’t as rousing as what I expected from Tarantino but then Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction instantly catapulted themselves into my favourite films list. Jackie Brown didn’t have that affect on my me instantly but after repeat viewings it gets stronger and stronger.

      I actually think that Tarantino deliberately changed his pace and settled for more characterisation and plotting with this one and that’s what put many people off. His snappy dialogue and shocking scenes were omitted too but overall I think it was a bold move and it’s QT at his most restrained.

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      • Those are all good points. But I still think the characters hard to care about and the pacing a touch too slow. Combine that with Greer’s performance (of which I am not a big fan), and Jackie Brown, even after all these years and two or three viewings, one of them fairly recent, remains the closest Tarrantino has come to missing, at least for me.

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      • I do agree that the pace is a little off and I wasn’t overly keen on Grier either. These were the factors that prevented me from giving it top marks. I liked that much. I have no idea why Grier received so much critical praise, though. The fact that she’s fallen into obscurity again tells you something though doesn’t it?

        As for the rest of the characters, I actually find them to be some of the most realistic that Tarantino has written (with thanks to Elmore Leonard, of course)

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Nice review Mark. It’s a long one for sure, but kept me entertained and on-edge the whole time. Especially if you’ve read the book, since Tarantino does change a few things up every once and awhile.

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    • Cheers Dan. Yeah, I’m a big fan of Leonard’s writing. I had actually read Rum Punch a good few years before Tarantino even announce she was the doing the film. I think that’s why I was disappointed first time around big it’s one of those films that manages to remain gripping with every viewing and even gets better.

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  8. I think you chose the perfect word to describe this movie when you called it mature.

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    • Thanks smash! I do think this is the most mature Tarantino has been. All his other characters seem to inhabit his own little world and if only people spoke to each other the way Tarantino writes dialogue, the world would be a more colourful place. He doesn’t seem to do that as much in Jackie Brown though, and as a result, it comes across more realistic.

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  9. Great review, will have to give it a rewatch.

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  10. This is the only one of his movies I haven’t seen….

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  11. I love this film! Great look at this one, Mark. I must watch it again because of this. Well done, my friend.

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  12. This is one from QT I’ve been meaning to see! Wow, I didn’t realize your man Bobby D is in this as well, all the more reason to see it then.

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    • This is probably Tarantino’s least violent film Ruth. In fact, there are many things he does differently but to equal effect.

      Indeed, Mr. Bobby D is in this and he is great considering he has very little to do.

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      • Glad to hear it’s not as violent! I think Inglourious Basterds nearly gave me a nervous breakdown, ahah. Love the cast here, though I’m most curious to see Pam Grier in her title role.

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      • In all honesty, Ruth, I wasn’t all that keen on Grier’s performance. Don’t get me wrong, she isn’t bad but I fail to see where all the praise she received came from. I was more taken with the actors around her. That’s exactly the reason why this is actually one of my a favourite DeNiro performances. He doesn’t get anywhere near as much screen time or dialogue as the likes of Grier but makes a massive impact anyway.

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  13. Very well argued Mark; I agree with you wholeheartedly, especially about DeNiro’s underrated performance. Although this is QT’s ‘forgotten’ film it remains his most mature work.

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  14. Mighty fine review bro. I’m about to shame myself again but I’ve never seen all of this. I’ve always meant to revisit it but I’ve been dragging my feet. Shame on me!

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  15. Europa Report was fucking fantastic!

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  16. I haven’t finished it yet but Jackie Brown is pretty good : )

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  17. Well written review Mark. I have to watch this again, wasn’t too keen on it when I first watched it.

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    • You should watch it again Chris. I was exactly the same on the first viewing. I wasn’t overly impressed but it’s one of those films that gets better and better every time. I reckon Jackie Brown should be seen at least three times before you make your mind up.

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  18. Great review man. I’ve only seen this the once and I enjoyed it. Didn’t love it but still liked it. Definitely need to give it another watch as it seems like it improves over multiple viewings.

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  19. Hi, Mark:

    Very good dissertation of a film that was generally tailored for Ms. Grier. As soon as Tarantino made the connection and had a face and body of work to attach to the main character.

    Robert Forster’s selection and performance are inspired. His world weariness and fealty to the job is right up there with Robert Mitchum
    or Walter Matthau on their best days.

    A little too much rough and foul language for my tastes, but that comes with the turf and Tarantino. Great to see Michael Keaton and Sig Haig proving they still have chops.

    Cheers!

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    • Thanks for dropping by Jack.
      As I mention, I wasn’t overly taken with Grier performance. She was good but I can’t bring myself to agree with the abundance of praise she reviewed.

      As you mention, though, Forster was outstanding and even though I’m not normally a fan of Keaton, I was he was perfect here.

      I have to say, It was the subtlety of DeNiro that captured me most throughout it all though.

      Like

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