Monday, November 7, 2011

Movie Monday: Jackie Brown

This week's movie is Quentin's Tarantino's Jackie Brown!

Part of the point of these Movie Mondays has been to talk about an obscure movie and give it a look, or talk about something brand new that people maybe haven't had a chance to see. Of course, Jackie Brown doesn't fit either category, since its a film by one of the most famous movie directors of the last couple of decades, stars big name actors, and has been around long enough that anyone who wants to see it has seen it. So why cover it?

Well, Jackie Brown came out on Blu-Ray a few weeks ago (paired up with Pulp Fiction, I believe) and at first I rolled my eyes at some critics insistence that it is Tarantino's best film, even better than PF. I had seen Jackie Brown when it came out in 1997, and very much enjoyed it, but saying it was better than Pulp Fiction--one of the most influential movies of the last quarter century--seemed like revisionist history, the kind of thing critics say when they want to sound just a little hipper than everyone else (I feel the same way when its said that one of Orson Welles' later films is better than Citizen Kane. As good/great as many of Welles' films were, they're not better than Kane. Citizen Kane is Welles', and anyone else's for that matter, best film. Period.).

But while I was skeptical of all this effusive praise, I thought why not give Jackie Brown another spin, especially since its available on Netflix WI?
Jackie Brown opens like film right out of the 1970s, with a long tracking shot of Jackie (Pam Grier of course, still looking gorgeous) as she makes her way down an airport walkway, as Bobby Womack's "Across 110th Street" plays on the soundtrack.

Jackie is working for a rinky-dink airline, after a flight back from Mexico she's stopped by two DEA agents, Mark Dargus (Michael Bowen) and Ray Nicolette (the awesome, why-isn't-he-in-more-movies Michael Keaton). They check her bags, and find a ton of cash, as well as a small bag of drugs, the latter Jackie seems surprised over. They lean on her, trying to get her to give up the name of the person she's working for.

That person is Ordell Robbie (Samuel Jackson), who is involved in several illegal enterprises, along with his dim-witted pal Louis (Robert DeNiro):
We're introduced to them both via a long scene (many scenes in Jackie Brown are long) and Ordell is charming, funny, but also very scary. Jackson excels at conveying a river of violence running just beneath a gregarious exterior, and we see some glimmers of that in how he treats his sort-of girlfriend, the perpetually-stoned Mel (Bridget Fonda, looking ridiculously sexy):
Before the problem with Jackie, Ordell has to bail out another one of his messengers, a kid named Beaumont. He turns to a local bailbondsman named Max Cherry, played by Robert Forster (another actor whose career Tarantino was resuscitating with this film). Max takes Ordell's money, but in their first scene together (in Max's office), you can tell that Max doesn't really buy most of what Ordell is saying, and keeps him at somewhat arm's length. He also looks hesitant over how Louis just sort of wanders around the office, doing nothing in particular.

Beaumont gets bailed out, and gets a visit from Ordell. Since Beaumont is played by the motor-mouthed Chris Tucker, the scene between him and Jackson is a flurry of curses and the N-word being tossed back and forth. That river of violence of Ordell's comes to the surface when, after talking Beaumont into taking a short drive with him, he shoots Beaumont to death, execution-style.

After Jackie gets busted, Ordell asks Max to flip the money used to bail out Beaumont to Jackie. Max goes to pick up Jackie at the local lock-up, and in a bravura scene, we see Max is instantly smitten:
Max watches Jackie come towards him, and Tarantino stretches out the scene to improbable lengths (Jackie seems to take ten minutes to walk a few feet). As he cuts back to Max, he pulls in closer and closer, and we can read Max's lined face and see something stirring that maybe hasn't stirred in a long, long time.

Max is pretty clear he likes Jackie, but in a very plainspoken, charming way. Jackie likes Max too, and they get a drink together and talk. Max doesn't trust Jackie exactly, but he's clearly smitten (there's a hilarious scene where hear an answering machine message Max leaves for Jackie, where he rattles off so many different numbers he can be reached at it becomes either desperately sad or desperately funny. I've been there, pal). He's simultaneously protective and wary of her.

There's a lot of plot in this movie--a lot--but its not really about that. Tarantino is more interested watching how these characters interact, how they respond to events. Jackie sees a way out of the dead-end she's been on, Max falls hard for Jackie, the DEA tries to nab Ordell, and Ordell does whatever he has to to get his money from Mexico into his hands.

All the performances are outstanding; none mores so than Robert Forster, whose Max Cherry is so compelling I would have loved to see spin-off into his own Rockford Files-esque spin-off. In the middle of all this sex, drugs, and murder, Cherry is so soft-spoken that first he seems like a chump; but we get to see his inner resolve and you can't help but root for him.

Fonda is great as a girl so sure of her sexiness that she takes risks, big risks, and her final scene ends with an act of violence so arbitrary that its shocking. DeNiro manages to come across as a dim bulb, Keaton is electric as the hyper DEA agent (a role he reprised in Out of Sight), and Jackson is tremendous as a very charming guy, but one you know you probably don't want anything to do with. Tying it all together of course is Pam Grier as Jackie, who, along with Forster, gets the role of a lifetime here.

The movie's pace is leisurely; there's a dry run of the sting Jackie and the DEA run against Ordell, and then the sting itself, yet both sequences are taut and involving, and despite the two and a half hour running time I was never, ever bored.

I won't get into the details of the rest of the plot, but I don't think I'm giving anything way to mention that the film ends with a long close-up of Grier. You can almost feel the love and affection Tarantino has for her just as the credits roll:

As I said, at the time of its release I remember liking Jackie Brown, and thought it was a fine successor to the triumph of Pulp Fiction, but I concluded it didn't match its predecessor.

Well, now I'm not so sure--unlike his other films (before and aft), Tarantino seemed to want to downplay the genre pastiches and make a more character-centric piece with Jackie Brown, and now having seen the film again I see he succeeded, wildly. Roger Ebert said in his review that he could have watched these characters go on for hours more, and I agree: right after watching Jackie Brown all the way through, I put it back on and watched it all over again.

So while I may have rolled my eyes at it a few weeks ago, I think now I agree: Jackie Brown is Quentin Tarantino's best film.

1 comment:

Robert M. Lindsey said...

Great film. My personal favorite of QT, even though PF is undoubtedly more influential. Forester should have been nominated for an Oscar for this role.

It's funny you'd say "...and has been around long enough that anyone who wants to see it has seen it." Even though I'd wanted to watch it since it came out, I only saw it for the first time a few months ago. Why did I wait so long? It never hurts to remind people of a good film they may have missed.

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