Tuesday, 31 July 2012

29/07/2012: Jackie Brown [1997]

I keep cutting it close on the Tarantino Blogathon, but once again I buckled down and watched Jackie Brown. Jackie Brown is probably the most different of Quentin Tarantino’s films but as always it is shear gold, with an interesting story, great cast and just a taste of violence. It doesn’t scream Tarantino as much as some of his other works, but there is definitely no mistaking his influence and style, no matter how subtle it might be.

 Jackie Brown is a movie dedicated and constructed just for the lead actress, Pam Grier whom Tarantino and the rest of us know from her days of blaxploitation. Pam Grier started her career in the 70’s and was the star of a number of exploitation and blaxploitation movies like Coffy, The Big Bird Cage and Foxy Brown.  In case you haven’t noticed Tarantino is heavily influenced by the styles of exploitation movies, and he grew up watching Pam Grier in some them. Unfortunately, Pam Grier never seemed to catch a break, and Tarantino decided to make an entire movie in which to cast her as a star. But it wasn’t going to be an ultra-violent exploitation movie, but a more conventional movie, or well, as conventional as Tarantino gets. 

Which it turns out is pretty standard. Jackie Brown is a story of an airline stewardess who smuggles money into the country for an arms dealer. When she is ratted out and busted, she agrees to work with the ATF to catch Ordell redhanded and get off the hook. However, games begin to unfold and schemes are hatched in what becomes quite an elaborate plan. However, the most interesting thing is that while we might not know the exact details, we are mostly aware of everything that is going to happen. We don’t just get snippets of discussion and then have ourselves turned around again and again as we watch some insane scheme unfold. Tarantino, a big fan of conversations spend about the length of a decent movie just setting everything up. This way we know the players, and all of the different games they are playing. 

There must be a actor wanted section solely for big, imposing yet friendly black guys.
However, when the plan finally goes into action we aren’t bored or uninterested at all. Instead, we know enough about what is happening to know if something goes wrong, and we also know enough about all the character to know how things might possibly unravel. Impressively, even after Tarantino has literally drawn out a complex map of the plan, and taught us all about the players, we are still curious to see how things unravel. But, I wouldn’t say things necessarily unravel at all, and the only big surprise occurs rather suddenly in a parking lot. I have got to say, the first time I saw this movie, that surprised the shit out of me.  

As much as this is a crime movie, we do not see an abundance of violence or crime as you might expect from a Tarantino movie when it was released in 1997. Jackie Brown sits rather firmly in the category of crime drama thriller genre, with more dialogue than you can shake a script at. Now, after Pulp Fiction, everyone knows that Tarantino is the master of dialogue, and while we don’t get the small talk conversations we do in Pulp Fiction we do get something out of every one. I think it is safe to say that every conversation in Jackie Brown contain one important piece of info or another. Either about how the plan will play out, or it will reveal an important fact about a character. 

I don't think Louis was a man who really enjoyed following orders.
Once again Tarantino crafts some interesting characters and fills them with a stellar cast, which is amazing because he doesn’t tend to repeatedly use to many people. Yes, a couple of people might show up in a few of his movies, but the main characters are usually rotated out. I think that Samuel L. Jackson is one of a few who have played such large roles in more than one movie, asides from Uma Therman and Christoph Waltz. Eitherway, Jackson once again performs brilliantly, even if he has the craziest hair I’ve ever seen on him. Then there is my favourite performance by Robert De Niro ever as Louis. He is not some genius or detective like he tends to be in all of his other movies. He is drug using ex-convict, and henchman, not any kind of mastermind, he is actually rather out of it for most of the movie as things unfold around him. We also have Robert Forester who plays our bail bondsman, Max Cherry, but where you put him on the good guy/bad guy  scale is a little difficult. The other familiar face is Sid Haig, who does a small cameo as a judge. While he is of newfound fame in the horror genre, he was acting originally alongside Pam Grier in such things as Foxy Brown.

This movie also features the crowning on screen moment of Samuel L. Jackon's hair.
Jackie Brown is easily the least violent of Tarantino’s films, with a total body count of merely 4. I find this strange as this movie was significantly influenced by the exploitation movies of which Pam Grier used to star in. However, having seen Foxy Brown, the general plot concept seems like something that may have been used in such a movie, just with more complexity and less violence. I don’t think that it is going to shock anyone with a plot twist but I do promise it never loses interest, which I honestly thought it might on my second watch seeing it is a two and a half hour movie.

Overall, Jackie Brown may not be my favourite Tarantino movie, but it is easily Tarantino grade. For those who aren’t such big fans of Tarantino’s style, I would most likely recommend Jackie Brown as part of my plan to coax you to join me in my love of Tarantino. For those of us who are already fans, Jackie Brown makes a great piece to freshen up and change the pace a bit if you just so happen to be doing a Tarantino marathon or perhaps blogathon. I’m not sure what is up next, but whatever it is, I know I’ll be game, and hopefully get around to it a little earlier. Remember to keep tuned to The Smoking Pen’s Tarantino blogathon as we count down the months till Django Unchained.


1 comment:

  1. Excellent review, as always! I love the point you made about how Tarantino lays out the entire crime plan, and yet we're still excited to watch it all unfold. No doubt partially do to his not-entirely-linear storytelling. Genius!