Friday, December 30, 2022

Review: Pam Grier is Radiant in "JACKIE BROWN," Tarantino's Best (Maybe) Film

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 77 of 2022 (No. 1889) by Leroy Douresseaux

Jackie Brown (1997)
Running time:  154 minutes (2 hours, 34 minutes)
MPAA – R for strong language, some violence, drug use and sexuality
DIRECTOR:  Quentin Tarantino
WRITER:  Quentin Tarantino (based upon the novel by Elmore Leonard)
PRODUCER:  Lawrence Bender
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Guillermo Navarro
EDITOR:  Sally Menke
Academy Award nominee


Starring:  Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster, Bridget Fonda, Michael Keaton, Robert De Niro, Michael Bowen, Chris Tucker, LisaGay Hamilton, Tom Lister, Jr., Hattie Winston, Sid Haig, Aimee Graham, Tangie Ambrose, and T'Keyah Crystal Keymah

Jackie Brown is a 1997 drama and crime film from writer-director Quentin Tarantino.  It is based on Elmore Leonard's 1992 novel, Rum Punch.  Jackie Brown the movie focuses on a flight attendant who schemes with an aging bail bondsman in a bid to defeat both the ATF and her boss who smuggles guns into Mexico.

Jackie Brown introduces 44-year-old, Jackie Brown (Pam Grier), a flight attendant for the low-budget Mexican airline, Cabo Air.  She smuggles money from Mexico into the United States for her (kind of) boss, Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson), a gun runner in Los Angeles.  One day, Ordell's courier, Beaumont Livingston (Chris Tucker), is arrested, and he snitches about Ordell's business.

Acting on that information, LAPD Detective Mark Dargus (Michael Bowen) and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agent, Ray Nicolette (Michael Keaton), intercept Jackie while she is returning with some of Ordell's cash, with a small bag of cocaine thrown in.  Dargus and Nicolette use the cocaine to threaten Jackie with serious criminal charges and hard prison time.

Ordell hires bail bondsman, Max Cherry (Robert Forster), of Cherry Bail Bonds, to bail Jackie out of jail.  Feeling trapped between Ordell and the law, Jackie conspires with Max to pretend to give both sides what they want – Ordell the money and the ATF Ordell.  If this heist works, Jackie and Max will secure her future with half a million dollars of Ordell's money.

Jackie Brown is obviously writer-director Quentin Tarantino's ode to 1970s blaxploitation films.  The film is also a star vehicle that Tarantino created for the actress playing the title role in Jackie Brown, the great Pam Grier.  She starred in some of the most fondly remembered and popular blaxploitation films, most notably Coffy (1973) and Foxy Brown (1974).  The roles in those two films obviously inspired the role of “Jackie Brown,” although “Flower Child Coffin” a.k.a “Coffy” (of Coffy) and Foxy Brown are action heroes.  Instead, Tarantino makes Jackie Brown a world-weary woman, not an action hero, but a working woman willing to take the action that will help her make her way in the world.

Grier plays Jackie Brown with subtlety and grace, making Jackie comfortable in her skin.  Her sexiness is not forced, but radiates from her, buoyed by her confidence.  Grier makes it seem quite genuine that Brown would one day finally have enough with getting the crappy end of the stick in life.  Jackie takes a chance, and with nothing to lose, she works her magic.  Grier also works her magic, and the audience can believe that she is going to pull off this implausible heist of Ordell's money and also trick the ATF and LAPD by giving them only some of what they want.  Here, Grier gives the best performance of her career, and it is a shame that Hollywood has under-utilized her amazing talent and screen presence.

I have not seen enough of his performances to say that Max Cherry is actor Robert Forster's best performance of his career.  Playing Max revitalized Forster's career, which was mostly stalled at the time.  With charming stoicism, Forster perfectly plays the calm, wise, and a little weary, Max Cherry, one of the most perfect characters that Tarantino ever wrote.  Forster also convinces us that he has so totally fallen for Jackie Brown that he is willing to do everything she wants even if it is everything that he should not do.

I also think that Ordell Robbie is Samuel Jackson's best performance.  Ordell is an example of what would become the stereotypical Samuel L. Jackson character – the menacing, bad-ass Black man who loves to shoot people and curse up a storm.  However, Jackson makes Ordell a man full of angles and twists.  He is coarse with a trashy sophistication; he is menacing, but sentimental in odd ways.  He is not nearly as smart as he thinks he is, so he is ultimately a cheap hood with enough low-rent ambitions to make himself a doomed idiot.

Tarantino uses Grier, Forster, and Jackson's performances and those of several others (Robert De Niro, Bridget Fonda, and Michael Keaton) to give his usual style, wit, humor, and rapid-fire bravado traction and depth.  Jackie Brown does not have the snappy banter nor the nonlinear antics of Tarantino's previous film, Pulp Fiction.  Jackie Brown's narrative is a straight story, Tarantino's most substantive film to date.  It may be an ode to blaxploitation and also a smooth heist film, but most of all, Jackie Brown is a character drama.  With a superb soundtrack behind it (focusing on “The Delfonics” 1969 classic song, “Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)”), Tarantino uses a slow pace to weave a delightful Los Angeles crime story about the criminal things people do when they are desperate … or in love.

I think that Quentin Tarantino and Pam Grier are a match made in cinematic heaven.  2022 is the twenty-fifth anniversary of Jackie Brown's original theatrical release (December 8, 1997).  Jackie Brown has aged well, and for me, it gets better every time I watch it.

10 of 10

Friday, December 30, 2022

1998 Academy Awards, USA:  1 nomination: “Best Actor in a Supporting Role” (Robert Forster)

1998 Golden Globes, USA:  2 nominations: “Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture-Comedy or Musical” (Pam Grier) and “Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture-Comedy or Musical” (Samuel L. Jackson)

1998 Image Awards (NAACP):  1 nominations:  “Outstanding Lead Actress in a Motion Picture” (Pam Grier)

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