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Film Review: Jackie Brown
In 1997, Quentin Tarantino released Jackie Brown, based on the 1992 novel, Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard. Starring Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster, Bridget Fonda, Michael Keaton, Robert De Niro, Christ Tucker, Lisa Gay Hamilton, and Tommy Lister Jr., the film grossed $74.7 million at the box office. Jackson won the Berlin International Film Festival Silver Bear Award for Best Actor and Forster won the Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor while the film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and the Golden Globe Awards for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy and Best Actress – Motion Picture or Comedy.
Middle-aged flight attendant Jackie Brown routinely smuggles money across the border from Mexico and gets entangled in the lives of gun runner Ordell Robbie and ex-convict Louis. However, the authorities discover her smuggling and use her to implicate Robbie in a sting operation. But while they promise to clear the charges against her, they will only do so if there aren’t any problems with the sting.
An incredibly good film, Jackie Brown seems to be an anomaly in Tarantino’s career, seeing as it doesn’t have some of the usual trappings he displays. While he does make use of his trademark trunk shot, employs Jackson and uses the usual genres of music found in said films, this film doesn’t have as many pop culture references, doesn’t exist in the same continuity, is a lot smarter, less bloody and seems to be more realistically grounded than many of the other films he’s directed. However, this makes quite a bit of sense, seeing as he wrote the script as an adaptation of the aforementioned novel rather than creating an original story like he usually does. What’s more is it works to show that Tarantino is able to work with an already established continuity of which the foundations he had no part in building.
The characters are also very interesting, from Jackie herself to Ordell. It’s interesting that the latter is the film’s protagonist, but isn’t a very upstanding person to begin with, seeing as how the whole plot was kickstarted by her involvement in money smuggling. But what’s really notable about her character is that she’s able to plan an even greater con so she’s able to come out on top no matter what, even when a whole bunch of schemes just keep piling on. However, it’s quite interesting in that she’s seen as a relative small fry to Ordell, who is understandably a much bigger fish for the authorities, especially since they’re willing to drop all charges for Jackie in order to bust him. And as unlikeable as Jackie may be, Ordell is even worse and is much more obnoxious, dropping racial epithets at a much faster pace than characters Jackson plays usually do. He’s also much closer to a real-life gun runner, being so charismatic that people want to buy his merchandise, but is so paranoid that he kills Beaumont following his arrest out of fear that he’s going to become an informant. And then, he’s still given a good amount of characterization, shown that he actually cared about Melanie and was affected by her death.
Then there’s Louis, who spends most of the film being an anti-villain, sitting on the couch. But his hair-trigger temper is actually demonstrated quite well due to how his patients gets tested so much that he eventually shoots Melanie simply because she annoyed him.
The cinematography is also pretty good, especially the opening credits scene with Jackie on the moving sidewalk as well as the scene where she’s walking through the mall trying to make herself look upset. Both scenes have good really good camerawork.
The film also had some really interesting casting in the way of Grier and Forster as Jackie and Max respectively. With the film being a sendup to Blaxploitation, it makes sense to cast them as they were big stars in that era and genre. There’s some good self-awareness in the film about this as the two have a conversation about getting old and tired, seeing as their careers had been petering out since the 70s. There’s also the casting decision of Sid Haig as the film’s judge. It’s funny because he played a lot of villains in Blaxploitation films and looks to be a bit of backstage humor.
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