The Tarantino Reviews – ‘Jackie Brown’ (1997)

Tarantino's third outing is his most underrated effort!

Written by J.T. Johnson

Quentin Tarantino’s third film is the only movie he has directed where his screenplay came from another source. “Jackie Brown” is based on the novel “Rum Punch” by Elmore Leonard, an author that Tarantino was a huge fan of when growing up. The movie also happens to be Tarantino’s most underrated work, often overlooked in conversations in order to discuss one of his other films such as “Pulp Fiction” and “Kill Bill”.

However, as underrated as I think the film is, I also understand why it is underrated. While the movie does contain violence, it is more subtle in this film. It also contains one hell of a plot, but that plot is a slow burn as Tarantino allows events to meticulously play themselves out instead of rushing to its inevitable conclusion.

Tarantino himself has described this as a “hangout film”. While the plot is interesting and it certainly plays out in a satisfying way, the movie is more concerned simply by hanging out with the characters. Like in most of Tarantino’s films, the movie is filled with complex and morally challenged characters, all of whom you want to spend time with and really get to know.

First, there is Pam Grier as the titular Jackie Brown, a down on her luck flight attendant that has had a run in with the law before and can only work at one of the worst airlines in existence. This means that she doesn’t mind smuggling a little bit of money out of the country, but this puts her on the ATF’s radar. Throughout the film, Jackie has a plan and the interesting thing is to see where she is going with that plan as you’re never quite sure who she’s playing and who she isn’t.

The saddest part about Grier’s performance is that it is so good that you get mad that the Academy didn’t recognize her for a Best Actress nomination. Jackie has the confidence that Grier portrayed in her younger days starring in blaxploitation films such as “Coffey” and “Foxy Brown”, but she also has a vulnerability here. Jackie hates that she’s having to work a meager job in her middle age due to the fact that other people in her life screwed up and took her down with them and now she simply wants what’s due.

Beyond Grier is her leading man Max Cherry, played wonderfully by Robert Forster. Unlike Grier, Forster did get a nomination at the Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor and it was well deserved. Max is a veteran bail bondsman who has no time for nonsense yet also has a sensitive side as well. You like Max right away and you also love the chemistry between Forster and Grier as the movie progresses.

In addition to Grier and Forster, another award worthy performance comes from Samuel L. Jackson as the arms dealer Ordell Robbie. At first, Ordell is a rather cool customer but like the snake that he is, when he finally coils up and gets ready to strike, you feel the tension. Make no mistake about it, Ordell is one rotten customer and should never be underestimated. I’m a huge fan of Jackson and this is easily one of my favorite performances from the legendary actor.

Tarantino’s work here is more subtle and his tribute to the blaxploitation films is exquisite. I had not seen “Jackie Brown” in well over ten years. When I sat down to watch it last night, I remembered that it was a slow burn, but I was actually surprised by the fact that the time seemed to go by pretty fast. I think that’s because instead of focusing on the plot, which I already knew at this point, I was just happy to revisit these characters.

Seeing that it feels like Tarantino writes novels of his own that he simply throws onto the screen anyway, it should really come as no shock that he did such a good job with this adaptation. Even Leonard himself is on record stating that he thinks this film is the best adaptation of one of his novels. Great performances and a brilliantly scripted plot make this one long con that anyone would want to be a part of.

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