Today I want to talk about one of the most underrated movies by the great Quentin Tarantino, Jackie Brown, which arrived in theaters in 1997.
Although the director’s debut with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction was universally praised by audiences and critics, his third movie met with conflicting opinions.
First, this time, the protagonist was a middle-aged black lady, the gorgeous Pam Grier, precisely playing the role of stewardess Jackie Brown.
To round out her meager salary, she transports money across the border on behalf of arms dealer Ordell Robbie, played by the legendary Samuel L. Jackson.
Unfortunately, one smuggler’s henchmen get arrested for a silly crime. When the police grill him, he spills everything he knows about Jackie’s special trips.
So she finds two special agents from the anti-fraud department waiting for her when she arrives at the airport, ending up in handcuffs as well.
In the meantime, Ordell releases his stupid partner and unceremoniously liquidates him by filling him up with bullets.
Jackie learns of this murder from the bond dealer who bails her out of jail, Max Cherry, with whom she immediately becomes friends.
Indeed, the woman confesses to the man that she is unafraid of getting killed. Instead, she fears much more staying jobless and having to start a new life from scratch at her age.
Trying to escape that mess, Jackie decides to cooperate with the young officer who arrested her, Ray Nicolette, arrogant and hell-bent on framing Ordell at any cost.
However, Ordell’s other associates, namely his mistress Melanie and his right-hand man Louis, are also not so sure they want to remain loyal to the smuggler and may betray him, especially when Jackie is about to return from another trip with half a million dirty dollars.
Tarantino Bullet-Bucks Blaxploitation
Despite still being a movie with a pulp flavor, Jackie Brown emerges as a more serious and mature piece of work, marking another step forward in Quentin Tarantino‘s style in 1997.
Indeed, Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction sported a more fast-paced pace and over-the-top moments. In contrast, the narrative comes across as credible and realistic in this case.
We notice realism in the staging and the dialogue, although these retain the usual hilarious power and charisma the public loves so much about this director.
Elmore Leonard, the author of the original book Rum Punch, helps Tarantino with the screenplay, creating a movie bringing back Blaxploitation, a 1970s cinematic genre heavily reliant on popular aspects of African-American culture.
Tarantino adds a noir feel through his unique touch, combining the characters’ passionate humanity with their dark, cold cynicism.
Yet even before focusing on the characters, Tarantino devotes time and attention to describing this pulp world, which, while similar to this one, lives by its own rules entirely.
Indeed, we would not be surprised to see boxer Bruce Willis or undercover agent Tim Roth come through a door from his earlier movies since these fictional universes are consistent and homogeneous in style, albeit differing considerably from each other.
Jackie Brown does not aim for spectacular shoot-outs or duels between characters, just as it has no bloody or excessively violent scenes.
Its narrative flows slowly, like a quiet afternoon at friends’ houses, making conversations and situations seem trivial when they are not at all.
Every shot and word of every dialogue hides different keys to interpretation and the usual unfailing flood of cinematic quotes.
Whether you like it or not, you must admit that few other filmmakers pay homage to and teach cinema at the same time as old Quentin.
Good Old Pulp-Fueled Faces
Regarding the cast, some of Tarantino’s great credit was for bringing back to notoriety some actors who had somewhat dropped off the radar at that time.
Over all of them, we have her: Pam Grier, queen of blaxploitation for movies such as, for example, the famous Foxy Brown, of whom, of course, the character Jackie Brown is a passionate homage.
The actress is simply lovely in the role of this courageous and sorrowful woman, no longer as beautiful and intense as she once was but still proud in wanting to fight her battles on her own terms.
Equally mature and exciting is how Robert Forster plays Max Cherry, an elderly bond dealer tired of his job and that life of crime and criminals.
When each of them is funny on his own, together they become irresistible, creating a strange romantic feeling that we never really see come to an end.
Another grand elder in the story is the stupid and violent Louis Gara, with the astonished face of a superb Robert De Niro still fresh from the brilliant criminal performance in Michael Mann‘s magnificent Heat.
The actor would then return again in later years in better shape than ever in Ronin, an outstanding old-school action flick by John Frankenheimer in 1998.
It is unnecessary to stress how cool Samuel L. Jackson is in every Tarantino movie, whose ferocious sneer and wicked irony perfectly portray the smuggler Ordell‘s personality.
Finally, let’s not forget the gorgeous Bridget Fonda as his mistress, a sexy and teasing white trophy yet extremely annoying and untrustworthy.
If I have to criticize anything, I would have liked more of the fantastic Michael Keaton, somewhat limited to only a few scenes playing the outrageous agent Ray Nicolette.