Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Quentin Tarantino did a very pleasant thing with his first followup to his smash success
Pulp Fiction - he didn't repeat
himself. This time, he took a novel by Elmore Leonard and adapted it as a star vehicle for
Pam Grier, the blaxploitation queen of the '70s. Jackie Brown is less flashy and less
ambitious than Pulp Fiction, but equals it in substance, character, and thrills.
Airline stew Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) is caught sneaking money and a small amount of
cocaine into LAX by ATF agent Ray Nicolette (Michael Keaton). But the Feds don't want her, they want
someone big, namely her boss Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson), a self-styled arms dealer. Ordell
is wary about having his big payoff ruined by squealers and is concerned that Jackie might make a
deal ... and so bails her out with the possible intention of murdering her. Bail Bondsman Max Cherry
(Robert Forster) is a straight arrow who sees through Ordell's schemes at least part-way. He
teams up with Jackie to fool both the feds and Ordell. Complicating things are
Louis Gara (Robert De Niro), a criminal associate of Ordell's with a limited set of responses to
the world around him, and Melanie Ralston, Ordell's 'surf bunny' girlfriend whose casual sass and
spite make her equally undependable.
After Pulp Fiction Quentin Tarantino didn't really have to prove anything, but instead of
trying to top himself he made a crime thriller with a totally different agenda. After four hot
original screenplays, Tarantino adapted an Elmore Leonard novel about smugglers tangling with the
law. There are actual cops in Jackie Brown, something that didn't exist in the skewed
universe of Pulp Fiction, and in the place of existential poetry we're given a story more
hardboiled than hip. Structurally, it has a lot in common with Leonard's Get Shorty - both
feature ambitious black criminals trying to smuggle contraband through Los Angeles International
Jackie Brown is a collection of great characters interacting in a first-rate 'detective fiction'
kind of yarn. Between the players run innumberable strings of commitment, loyalty, fear, distrust,
coersion, lust, and affection. There are no chases, no running gun battles, only a series of scams
conducted under police surveillance. The cops are just another facet on a five-sided triangle,
and they're intelligent, if a little predictable.
Quentin Tarantino, a champion of early '70s blaxploitation movies, seems to have produced Jackie
Brown to showcase fave actress Pam Grier. It's strange that it takes a 'wild kid' director to
remind Hollywood what a Star is. Grier is terrific in the film. True, she's not Meryl Streep, but
you wouldn't believe Meryl in this role. A.I.P. Pictures like
Coffy were coarse and ragged, with just enough time for the statuesque
Grier to take her top off, say a few clumsy lines about offing the Honkeys, and shoot some bad-ass
m-f'ers in the groin. Tarantino gives her the most respectful part in Jackie Brown. Grier
is treated like Ava Gardner rounding the top of the hill - still gorgeous in her late
40's, but no longer fashion model material. Brown keeps her clothes on, and doesn't sleep with
anyone. She doesn't shoot a gun or shout sassy black power slogans. She's a real character in a
Robert Forster is extremely sympathetic as a bail bondsman with ethics, who trusts Jackie out of love.
Their relationship is a rare one in movies of this type - neither is interested in a future of
virtuous poverty - but they connect and trust one another from the start. Samuel L. Jackson creates
a truly dangerous operator just bright enough to trap himself with his own greed. The way he
conceives of every relationship as a con and every associate as expendable, makes for a nicely
authentic portrait of a sociopath.
Naturally, murderous bosses don't get the best help, and Jackson has two loose cannons in his employ
who guarantee unpredictability. Bridget Fonda is perfect as the girlfriend who doesn't care about
anything except her personal comfort, who skates on her looks for her soft life on the beach. That
Jackson thinks he can trust her for more than ten seconds is a wonder. Robert de Niro
is a burned-out crook incapable of looking or acting like anything else, or really
giving a damn either. One nice thing about Jackie Brown is that a powerhouse like de Niro is
sublimated into a supporting role without disturbing the balance of the picture. As
the federal cop, Michael Keaton has the true thankless role: the police have to be fooled during the
course of the film without coming off as stupid, and Keaton does his bit.
Jackie Brown is all about relationships and dialogue, here less flashy but just as compelling.
The story is straighter (not counting a brief time-twist borrowed from The Killing)
and more conventional, but the characters have more low-key grit. Jackie's anxiety about losing her
job and starting over at her age is real. Max Cherry's desire to get away from bail bond work is
sincere and touching - when's the last time you saw a movie character skip out on work to go to
a movie? The drug-glazed, who-gives-a-s*** attitudes over at Ordell Robbie's pad are more than
convincing. Leonard and Tarantino tie the plot threads up in one very complicated knot, and find a
very satisfactory conclusion. Jackie Brown is much more mature than Quentin Tarantino's
wiseguy persona lets on.
Miramax has given Jackie Brown deluxe treatment the equal of their Pulp Fiction package,
with a pile of extras. The packaging is beautifully designed, but shows Tarantino's
hand when the feature disc pops off to reveal a portrait of himself with Pam. First off is a nice mini-poster in the blaxploitation style. There's a trivia
subtitle track that explains everything from the Bande a part logo to the source film for the
title track, Across 110th Street. There's a full docu, and a full interview with QT, and he
participates heavily in the rest of the features as well. The MTV bites are a contest promotional spot centered on
Tarantino, and several interviews with the animated director and his stars. The deleted and alternate
scenes have no astonishing material, unless you count a pretty wonderful alternate title take with Ms. Grier
'surfing' and dancing to Miserlou on the moving sidewalk at the airport.
The aspect ratio listed on the box is 2:35, but what we get on the disc is a full 1:78 16:9. The
transfer and audio are impeccable.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Jackie Brown rates:
Supplements: Theatrical trailers, How It Went Down Docu, Interview with
Quentin Tarantino, Chicks with Guns Video, Siskel & Ebert At the Movies review,
deleted and alternate Scenes, "Jackie Brown" on MTV, Robert Forster Trailers, Pam Grier Trailers,
Pam Grier Radio Spots, Still Galleries, Reviews & Articles
Packaging: Folding cardboard and plastic case
Reviewed: August 18, 2002
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson