Jackie Brown (1997)

Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Cinematography Guillermo Navarro

Jackie Brown is a 1997 American crime thriller film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. The film, Tarantino’s third feature-length production, is an adaptation of Elmore Leonard‘s 1992 novel Rum Punch. It is the first (and to date, only) film that Tarantino has adapted from a previous work,  and stars Pam Grier in the title role. The film pays homage to 1970s blaxploitation films, particularly the films Coffy (1973) and Foxy Brown (1974), both of which also starred Grier in the title roles.

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Jackie Brown is a flight attendant for a small Mexican airline. To make ends meet, she smuggles money from Mexico into the United States for Ordell Robbie, a black-market gun runner living in the Los Angeles metropolitan area under the ATF‘s close watch, forcing him to use couriers. Ordell learns that another of his couriers, Beaumont Livingston, has been arrested. Assuming that Livingston will become an informant in order to avoid jail time, Ordell arranges for bail with bondsman Max Cherry, then coaxes Livingston into a car trunk and murders him.

Acting on information Beaumont had already shared, ATF agent Ray Nicolette and LAPD detective Mark Dargus intercept Jackie as she returns to the United States with Ordell’s cash and some cocaine that Brown was unaware was stashed in her bag.

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Initially refusing to cut a deal, she is sent to jail which alerts Ordell that she might also be a threat to inform. Having received payment from Ordell, Max picks up Jackie from the jail and begins to develop an attraction to her. Ordell arrives at Jackie’s house intending to murder her but she surprises him by pulling a gun surreptitiously taken from Max’s glove compartment. Jackie negotiates a deal with Ordell to pretend to help the authorities while smuggling in $550,000 of Ordell’s money, enough to allow him to retire.

To carry out this plan, Ordell is counting on Melanie Ralston, an unambitious, stoned surfer girl with whom he lives, and Louis Gara, a friend and former cellmate. Unaware of Jackie and Ordell’s plan to smuggle in $550,000, Nicolette and Dargus devise a sting to catch Ordell during a transfer of $50,000.

Unbeknownst to all, Jackie plans to double-cross everyone and keep $500,000 for herself. She recruits Max to assist with her plan and offers him a cut.

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In the Del Amo Mall on the day of the transfer, Jackie enters a dressing room to try on a new suit. She has told Ordell that she will swap bags there with Melanie, supposedly passing off the $550,000 under the nose of Nicolette, who has been told that the exchange is to take place in the food court. Instead, the bag she gives Melanie contains only $50,000 and the rest is left behind in the dressing room for Max to pick up. Jackie then feigns despair as she calls Nicolette and Dargus out from hiding, claiming Melanie took all the money and ran.

In the parking lot, Melanie mocks Louis until he loses his temper and shoots her. Louis confesses this to Ordell. Ordell is livid when he discovers that most of the money is gone, and he realizes that Jackie is to blame.

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When Louis mentions that during the hand-off he saw Max Cherry in the store’s dress department and thought nothing of it, Ordell kills him and leaves with the bag. Ordell turns his anger toward Max, who informs him that Jackie is frightened for her life and is waiting in Max’s office to hand over the money. A menacing Ordell holds Max at gunpoint as they enter the darkened office. Jackie suddenly yells that Ordell has a gun, and Nicolette jumps from a hiding place and shoots him dead.

Having had her charges dropped for cooperating with the ATF, and now in possession of the money as well as Ordell’s car, Jackie decides to leave the country and travel to Madrid, Spain. She invites Max to go along with her, but he declines. Jackie shares a meaningful moment with Max, kisses him goodbye, and leaves as Max takes a phone call. Moments later, Max cuts the call short and seems to contemplate his decision to stay behind as Jackie drives away.

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Development

After completing Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary acquired the film rights to Elmore Leonard‘s novels Rum Punch, Freaky Deaky, and Killshot. Tarantino initially planned to film either Freaky Deaky or Killshot and have another director make Rum Punch, but changed his mind after re-reading Rum Punch, stating that he “fell in love” with the novel all over again. While adapting Rum Punch into a screenplay, Tarantino changed the ethnicity of the main character from white to black, as well as renaming her from Burke to Brown, titling the screenplay Jackie Brown. Avary and Tarantino hesitated to discuss the changes with Leonard, finally speaking with Leonard as the film was about to start shooting. Leonard loved the screenplay, considering it not only the best of the twenty-six screen adaptations of his novels and short stories, but also stating that it was possibly the best screenplay he had ever read.

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Tarantino’s screenplay otherwise closely followed Leonard’s novel, incorporating elements of Tarantino’s trademark humor and pacing.The screenplay was also influenced by blaxploitation films, but Tarantino stated that Jackie Brown is not a blaxploitation film.

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.

The film’s opening sequence is similar to that of The Graduate, in which Dustin Hoffman passes wearily through Los Angeles International Airport past white tiles to a somber “The Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel. In Jackie Brown, Grier glides by blue tiles in the same spot on a moving sidewalk in the same direction to a soaring soul music song, “Across 110th Street” by Bobby Womack, which is from the film of the same name that was a part of the blaxploitation genre, just like Foxy Brown and Coffy.

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Tarantino sees off the backlash

Quentin Tarantino is clearly finding it difficult to follow the phenomenal success of “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction”, which made him the hottest writer-director of his generation. In the six years since then this is the only time that he has returned to the directors chair. “Jackie Brown” – his “difficult third film” – seems to be his response to criticism of his first two films that he could only make movies about other movies, but not real life. He cleverly anticipates the backlash by adapting a tightly plotted, character driven Elmore Leonard novel, still set in his familiar world of LA low-lives, but keeping to a minimum his trademark comic-book violence and pop-culture references, while emphasising the novels more mature themes – such as ageing and the feeling of time running out for the middle-aged characters.

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The result is a slick, interesting, if slightly draggy thriller, which ultimately lacks the freshness and audaciousness of those earlier films.

Tarantino still has his maverick streak though, as displayed in his trusting of Pam Grier to carry the entire movie. The casting of a middle-aged black actress with no box-office clout in the lead role can’t have been easy in an industry notorious for it’s scant regard for actresses after they reach 30. You can bet that the studios would have at least insisted on the safety of a Sharon Stone or a Demi Moore. But Tarantino, as he did when casting Travolta, stuck to his gut-instinct, and once again it proved an inspired choice. Grier, bringing with her the memories of her 70’s blackploitation movies, gives a convincingly tough, wise and sympathetic performance.

Actors love to work with Tarantino because the roles he gives them will be invariably jucier than usual.

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That is once again the case here, although the casting isn’t quite as inspired as it was in “Dogs” or “Pulp” (or “True Romance”). Samuel L. Jackson is reliably good – if hardly stretched – as an unscrupulous hustler who is not as smart as he thinks he is, and Bridget Fonda has fun as his conniving beach babe girlfriend. Robert Forster jumps at the chance to play a role with depth after years in made-for-tv hell. Robert De Niro though, despite providing some amusing moments, is disappointingly wasted as Jackson’s dim-witted partner.

At times this feels like just another thriller, but every now and then Tarantino reminds you what all the fuss was about. Jackson’s brutal (off-screen) dispatching of Chris Tucker in the boot of a car, as the camera slowly cranes up into the sky, is masterfully conceived and a scene, which is subtly built up to, involving a teasing Fonda and a p*****-off De Niro is as unexpected and as shocking as anything Tarantino has done before. By refusing to make a Pulp Fiction 2, Tarantino may have missed out on some easy money, but this film has enough to suggest that he will be more than just a flash in the pan.

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Less showy than Pulp, but a more mature story that is just as enjoyable

Author: bob the moo from United Kingdom
1 February 2004

Jackie Brown is a 44 year old air hostess who also acts as a money carrier for her boss, gun dealer Ordell Robbie. When one of Ordell’s other employee’s is caught he is forced to kill him, however, before he can get to him the employee tells the police about Jackie and they pick her up. With Jackie facing jail or being killed by Ordell she strikes a deal with both the police and him to bring in a large stash of money. However to help her retirement she plans to play the game to her own ends.

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Coming as a follow up to both Dogs and Pulp, this film was going to be the `greatest movie ever made’ or it was going to be met with a critical response that seems to be a bit negative. It was the hype and hyperbole around anything baring the name Tarantino that perhaps was giving every film he did higher and higher standards to meet, it is wasn’t Jackie Brown that was met in this way it would have been the next film, or the next one. However the reviews were mostly good, but it did get some unfair reviews from critics who expected this to continue the upward trend. In a way I believe that this film did show Tarantino’s growth as a director.

Where Pulp Fiction was dizzying in it’s style and pace, Jackie Brown is much more of a mature, balanced film that is satisfying in a more traditional sense that the design of Pulp. Developed from a Leonard novel, the plot is a solid crime thriller with a good plot that still gives room for Tarantino to do some time shifting as he reveals some key scenes from different perspectives to allow us to see the bigger picture. As a story it fills the rather generous running time pretty well and is enjoyable throughout.

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The film is still full of Tarantinoisms for the fans – the heavy soundtrack, the pop culture references, the witty, slick dialogue. However where the film stands out is that the characters are actually better than in his previous films where they never really went beyond the story and dialogue. Here not only are they better but they also include well-written female parts! While some of the characters are as good as they need to be within the confines of the basic crime story, it is in Jackie and Max where Tarantino has grown up a bit – although in fairness this was an adaptation rather than his own script, but he still manages them better than some of his own thin characters.

Following the praise for Pulp and Tarantino’s ability to rejuvenate careers, he must have had no problem cherry picking for this role.

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Grier gives a great performance and should be grateful for the role in an industry that generally ignores middle-aged women (not to mention black women!). The only thing surprising about her is how poorly she has taken this big lead role and used it to take her career on. Her performance embraces her age and uses it well, but it is Forster who gives the standout performance here. Not an actor many will be aware of apart from this film, he got an Oscar nomination for this and I think he deserved it. His performance is very low-key and quite moving – I think I will appreciate his work here more as I get older. Jackson does what is expected of him and has no real character, but his energy and skill are there to see. De Niro plays a little against type and is an interesting, but underused character. Fonda is really, really sexy and has some good lines while the rest of the cast do good work in small roles with people like Keaton, Tucker and Bowen in there.

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Overall I enjoy this film and can understand why it will never be loved to the extent that Pulp was and is. However to me this is a more satisfying film with an enjoyable plot and a more traditional delivery. The development of actual good characters beyond snappy dialogue is what impressed me the most and it sadden me to see him regress about a decade into style without substance with Kill Bill Vol. One.

Quentin strikes again.

Author: MovieAddict2016 from UK
2 April 2004

Where does a director go after making two colossal worldwide hits?

“Reservoir Dogs” (1992) and “Pulp Fiction” (1994) were two of the greatest movies ever made, and they launched director Quentin Tarantino into the realm of Mainstream Hollywood Director. Most of the time, a director faced with this reality will sink into a slew of really bad movies, but so far Tarantino has been either extremely lucky or extremely talented – his third feature film, although lacking in the brutality of its predecessors, contains just as much wit.

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Based upon the Elmore Leonard novel “Rum Punch,” it’s packed with the clever dialogue that Leonard is known for in his writing. It’s also got a good amount of style, too. It’s not a typical Tarantino movie, but is that necessarily a bad thing? In this particular instance, no.

Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) is a flight stewardess forced into running jobs for Ordell (Samuel L. Jackson), a ruthless criminal who has no respect for life – or death, for that matter. However, during one of her smuggling efforts, a couple of FBI Agents (including Michael Keaton) nab her and offer her a deal: If she helps them get Ordell, she will be let free from custody. The Feds do not know who Ordell is, but they know he exists, and that is where Jackie comes in. She reluctantly agrees to participate in their sting operation, but all is not what it seems. And when $500,000 dollars disappears from his retirement fund, Ordell stops, thinks, and arrives upon the conclusion that we all anticipate with glee: Jackie Brown did it.

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His partner in crime, Louis (the wonderful Robert De Niro), also decides to double-cross Ordell, with the help of a sexy blonde ditz named Melanie (Bridget Fonda), The movie’s twisting plot line and intersecting story lines is very reminiscent of “Pulp Fiction,” and De Niro’s underrated performance is a real stand-out. The movie’s quite well made and enjoyable.

Don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. This is no “Reservoir Dogs,” nor does it want to be. It’s not in the same vein as Tarantino’s other movies, at least not at a superficial level. However, it is extremely entertaining, helped along by a great cast and a terrific script. The only difference here is that Tarantino did not come up with everything by himself. He adapted the screenplay from another source, something he usually doesn’t do. But there’s also a little-known fact that Roger Avary co-wrote some of “Dogs” and “Fiction” with Tarantino, as well as sparked the idea for some of his films. Here, Quentin adapts Leonard’s novel and does justice. People who say it isn’t as good as his other movies because it’s recycled obviously don’t know what they’re talking about.

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Tarantino started out as a video store clerk, and is the movie buff’s filmmaker. Not only does Tarantino share a deep passion for films, but he also knows what most of the real movie enthusiasts want. He has yet to disappoint me with any of his directorial efforts. His own life story would make an interesting movie, and indeed it did with “True Romance,” partially based on Tarantino’s own self-image of himself. (A geek working at a comic book store falls in love and goes off of an adventure into a new realm — in Tarantino’s own case, it was film-making. For Clarence, from “True Romance,” it was drugs and murder.)

Tarantino has a flair for raw energy in all of his films, and “Jackie Brown” is no exception. The movie is bursting at its edges, packed with wild antics and the occasional fierce brutality.

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The movie was criticized by Tarantino’s die-hard fans for being too different from his other films. However, the mistake of many directors is to repeat the same formulas over and over again. One must at least give Tarantino credit for trying new things in each of his films. If anything, the only thing that Tarantino likes to insert into all his films is a large source of energy. And is that a bad thing?

4.5/5 stars.

“Didn’t I blow your mind this time?”

9/10
Author: Steffi_P from Ruritania
20 February 2012

These days, when a director becomes a household name, there’s a pressure on them to live up to their established reputation. If the formula changes the fans don’t take it well. This is at least partly thanks to the auteur theory, which tends to value a director’s work on its consistency rather than the actual quality of each movie. After his revolutionary hit Pulp Fiction, his follow-up Jackie Brown was not exactly a flop, but its reception among critiques, awards ceremonies and the general chitchat of Tarantino aficionados was somewhat lukewarm compared to the raging success of Pulp Fiction. What was wrong?

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Jackie Brown differs from previous Tarantino projects in that it is adapted from a novel, rather than being an original screenplay straight from the director’s brain (albeit filtered through his many cinematic influences). It contains rather less of the dialogue-for-dialogue’s sake that was so integral to the appeal of Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, so no “Royale with Cheese” business here. It still has plenty of cracking dialogue in pursuit of plot though, and scenes such as Lewis trying to explain what went wrong with the switch are glowing examples of Tarantino’s black humour. Overall it’s a finely constructed thing, a nod towards the lovers-in-crime sub-genre of film noir as much as it is a stylistic homage to blaxploitation. And perhaps it’s those romantic undertones and the slightly more low-key violence that put off many of the less broadminded Tarantino admirers.

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Always something of a minimalist behind the camera, Tarantino’s visual style here is at its most simple. Like a Sergio Leone picture, every scene basically boils down to a stand-off between two characters. Tarantino mostly eschews camera movement, just giving us stripped-down shots of people glaring at each other. Of course some may miss the more flamboyant touches that could be seen in his earlier movies, but for the sake of story and character, he is better without them. Special mention must be made of the music in Jackie Brown. Tarantino is of course known for his use of popular music soundtracks, but here it is more apt and co-ordinated than ever. The opening sequence is perfectly timed to “Across 110th Street”, the aching melody and lyrics setting the tone of the whole movie as Pam Grier strides along to the beat. At other times the soundtrack is even witty, as when Robert Forster steps out of the changing room. Tarantino should try making a musical one day. It’d be amazing.

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The simplicity of Tarantino’s approach has given more prominence to the cast. Blaxploitation star Pam Grier here gets her most significant role in years, slotting into Tarantino-world with ease and confidence. She has a lot of silences – her refusal to answer when she’s asked if the envelope can be searched, the long close-up of her while Michael Bowen interrogates her offscreen – but she constantly acts through them, subtle reactions flickering across her face. Crucially she has the necessary strength of character to make us believe she would stand up to cops and gangsters. Other honourable mentions must also go to Robert De Niro, bringing presence to his small part, and his unlikely but fruitful pairing with Bridget Fonda, who matches him for comical delivery.

Jackie Brown clearly lacks the superficial pizazz and deconstructed narrative that wowed everyone in Pulp Fiction, but in its place there is a clear, strong story arc and a slightly more human, emotional slant. To my mind that’s more than a fair exchange. But perhaps it’s most helpful not to consider what it is or is not in comparison to its predecessor. Jackie Brown is an excellent movie in its own right.

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Booyah!

9/10
Author: Spikeopath from United Kingdom
7 February 2016

Coming as it did after critical darlings Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, it’s perhaps not surprising that Quentin Tarantino’s next film failed to – at the time – scale those giddy heights. Yet on reflection these days, when viewing Tarantino’s career nearly twenty years later, it’s one of his tightest works.

Working from master pulper Elmore Leonard’s novel “Rum Punch”, Tarantino had a concrete base from which to build on, which he does with aplomb. Cleaving close to the spirit of Leonard, Jackie Brown is rich with glorious chatter, each conversation either pings with a biting hard ass edge, or alternatively deconstructing the vagaries of the human condition.

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Oh for sure Jackie Brown is talky, but nothing is ever twee or pointless, it’s a film that pays rich rewards to those prepared to grasp the characters on show, to be aware that all is building towards the final third. It’s then here where the story brings about its stings, with a complex operation cloaked in double crosses and evasive captures, of violence and more…

There’s a wonderful portion of the story that sees Tarantino play the same sequence out from different character perspectives, but it’s not indulgent. Tarantino reins himself in, not letting stylisations detract from the characters we are so heavily involved with. His other triumph is bringing Pam Grier and Robert Forster to the fore, who both deliver terrific performances. It’s through these pair, with their deft characterisations, where Jackie Brown is most poignant and purposeful.

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Is Jackie Brown undervalued in Tarantino’s armoury? Perhaps it is? For it’s ageless, holding up as a piece of intelligent work of note, and well worth revisiting by anyone who hasn’t seen it since it was first released. 9/10

A good film but not Quentin’s best

7/10
Author: Tom147 from England
28 October 2013

Following the success of Reservior Dogs and Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino’s 3rd film, Jackie Brown, was one I was looking forward to. When I saw the rating on here was significantly lower than the previous two I was a little skeptical. Afer finally getting round to watching Jackie Brown, I think the slightly lower rating is justified.

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The plot for the film is good, there’s a really well assembled cast as well. I liked how we saw different parts of the story over and over again from a different person’s perspective. There wasn’t that much action but the main story was pretty gripping and kept you guessing. Although it was gripping to an extent, I felt that it took too long to get going properly. This film could easily have been an hour shorter and would’ve had the same results.

Overall it is a good film but for me there wasn’t enough happening to justify it being so long. A good one time watch anyway.

7/10.

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