Jackie Brown is a 1997 American crime drama film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. It is an adaptation of the novel Rum Punch by American novelist Elmore Leonard and pays homage to 1970s blaxploitation films, legend has it the 1974 classic “Foxy Brown.”
The film stars Pam Grier (who also starred in Foxy Brown), Robert Forster, Robert De Niro, Samuel L. Jackson (who appears in every Tarantino film), Bridget Fonda and Michael Keaton. Jackie Brown was Tarantino’s third film following his accomplished movies Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994).
Grier and Forster were both veteran actors but had not performed in a leading role for years. As Tarantino often does with his movies, he gave once popular but then obscure actors’ careers a shot in the arm i.e. David Carradine in Kill Bill. The film won Forster an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, and Jackson and Grier nominations for Golden Globe Awards.
Despite this strong cast, Jackie Brown is the one Tarantino I think stinks on ice. Yes, I said it, I don’t like this film at all. One reason is that I don’t find any real enjoyment in watching someone light a cigarette and take the first drag in slow motion. The story moves at a snail’s pace, which is as fast as one of the cigarette smoking scenes that riddle the film.
Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) plays a flight attendant for a small Mexican airline as her career takes yet another step down. To “supplement” her income, she smuggles money into the United States for Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson), a gunrunner on the ATF’s radar big time who learns that one of his workers, Beaumont Livingston (Chris Tucker), has been arrested. Certain that Livingston will roll over and inform in order to minimize jail time, Ordell arranges for his bail with bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster) and promptly kills Livingston.
Acting on information Livingston had provided, ATF agent Ray Nicolette (Michael Keaton) and LAPD detective Mark Dargas (Michael Bowen) intercepts Jackie arriving in the United States with cash and some cocaine. Brown initially refuses to deal with Nicolette and Dargas, so she is sent to jail on possession of drugs with intent to sell. Sensing that Jackie may now be just as likely to roll over as Livingston did, Ordell goes back to his main bail man Max to arrange for her bail. Max arrives to pick her up, clearly is attracted to her and offers to buy her a drink to discuss her legal options. The “perp” walk Jackie makes from the prison to the gate could be one of the longest walks in the history of film.
Ordell later arrives at Jackie’s house intending to use his tried and true technique of insuring silence by simple murder. She surprises him by pulling a gun she surreptitiously borrowed from Max’s glove compartment, and then proceeds to broker a deal with Ordell whereby she will pretend to help the authorities while still managing to smuggle $500,000 of Ordell’s money into the country allowing him to retire. To carry out this plan, Ordell employs Melanie Ralston (Bridget Fonda), a woman he lives with, and Louis Gara (Robert De Niro), a friend and former cellmate. He also uses a naïve Southern girl, Sheronda (Lisa Gay Hamilton).
In a predictable move, Jackie will help Nicolette and Dargas arrange a sting to catch Ordell. Nicolette and Dargas are unaware that Jackie and Ordell plan to double-cross them by diverting the actual money before the authorities make an arrest. Unbeknownst to the others, Jackie plans to deceive all of them with the help of Max in order to keep the $500,000 for herself. A triple cross that only takes a little more than 2.5 hours to unfurl.
In a large shopping mall near Los Angeles, Jackie buys a new suit and enters a dressing room to swap bags with Melanie and Louis, in theory passing off the $500,000 under Nicolette’s nose. Instead, she gives Melanie only $50,000 and leaves the rest behind in the dressing room for Max to pick up. Jackie then feigns despair as she claims Melanie took all the money and ran.
In the parking lot, Melanie annoys and mocks Louis until he loses his temper and shoots her while Ordell discovers that Louis has only $40,000 in the bag (Melanie having kept $10,000 for herself after being tricked into doing so by Jackie). Ordell realizes Jackie has taken his money and, angered, kills Louis and is now concerned with the involvement of Max Cherry, having been told by Louis that he spotted Max in the store before the pickup. Lured back to Max’s office, where Jackie is said to be frightened and waiting to hand over his money, Ordell arrives armed. Jackie yells out that Ordell has a gun and he is shot dead by Nicolette, who had been hiding in another room.
In the clear with the law and in possession of the money, minus his usual 10% fee that Max has taken for himself, Jackie wisely decides to leave the country and travel to Spain. She invites Max to go with her, but he declines before Jackie kisses him goodbye and leaves.
Jackie Brown alludes to Grier’s career in many ways. The film’s poster resembles those of Grier’s films Coffy and Foxy Brown and includes quotes from both films. The typeface for the film’s opening titles was also used for those of Foxy Brown; some of the background music is lifted from these films.
Tarantino wanted Pam Grier to play title character Jody in Pulp Fiction, but Tarantino did not believe audiences would find it plausible for drug dealer Eric Stoltz to yell at her. Apparently when Grier showed up to read for Jackie Brown, Tarantino had posters of her films all over his office.
I’ve always looked at Jackie Brown with a certain disdain. It is the black sheep of Tarantino’s film family. This movie has grown old fast though it is still relatively young and has a 1980’s feel and not in a good way. Reservoir Dogs is 5 years older and looks like it was filmed yesterday.
While it pains me to urinate on this film, I feel I owe it to you. Also, it’s far too long. I didn’t expect action throughout the movie but there was nothing: it was just rambling by all the characters and going into (cheap) “deep” analysis about them that was unnecessary and implausible. Thus Tarantino manages to take a simple plot and drag it out for over 2 hours. The usual well-paced films we have come to expect from Tarantino is inapplicable to Jackie Brown. By the end, I just could not care about any of the characters or what happened to them and that is a shame considering the cast of Pam Grier, Robert De Niro, Samuel L Jackson and Bridget Fonda.
The plot is not as thin as a porno but not thick enough to withstand the weight and pretentiousness that Tarantino places upon it. When the switch comes, over 2 hours in, it is shot with the director’s usual aplomb, from 3 different points of view. Fair enough (and this is the high point of the film aesthetically) but the actual plotting at this point is poor. We are to believe that a) the feds will allow their mark to go into a changing room without keeping any sort of tabs on her, and b) that the bondsman, who is known to the villains, will be in plain sight. It all comes across as contrived.
I wanted out after the first hour but felt I owed it to the director to hang in there hoping something—anything would move. I was wrong about that. Enjoy the cigarette smoking clips, which to me symbolize the whole film, slow and full of smoke and mirrors.