Today is the 51st birthday of one of my favorite directors: Quentin Tarantino. It’s funny that a man who I consider the epitome of cinematic cool is the same age as my parents (see also: Johnny Depp, George Clooney, Brad Pitt). I figured the best way to celebrate the occasion was to watch and review the only one of his films I have yet to see, Jackie Brown (1997). (I also haven’t seen Death Proof/Grindhouse, but I feel like that’s different somehow.) I feel bad saying this on the man’s birthday, but Jackie Brown is my least favorite of Quentin’s oeuvre even if it is only by a small amount. I only dislike Jackie Brown only because I regard the others so highly. If Jackie Brown was directed by anyone else, chances are I would have liked it more. That’s the problem when you’re as brilliant as QT, people (and by people I mean me) expect a lot from you.
I would say that I am not the audience for this movie because I’ve never seen a blaxploitation film and I wasn’t alive during the 70’s, but I’ve also never seen a Western and I enjoyed Django Unchained just fine. I loved the performances and the story, but it didn’t feel Tarantino-ey enough for me in most parts. Overall, nothing really happens. The film moves too slowly, the dialogue isn’t as snappy as usual, and some of the music choices are jarring, especially the Johnny Cash song playing when Ordell goes to Jackie’s house for the first time.
I did like that the story revolved around another strong female character who could more than hold her own against the men around her. Pam Grier played Jackie Brown with such silent confidence. Her mind is always moving and you are always just a little afraid to know what’s going on in there. Her cool reserve is balanced by Robert Forest as Max Cherry who comes off with a more emotive persona. Samuel L. Jackson plays Ordell Robbie with just the right amount of menacing and f-bombs, but it was hard to look past that braided chin beard and ridiculous ponytail. Also, I appreciated Robert Di Niro’s character Louis, who just couldn’t seem to get anything right and who we first meet wearing “thrift shop” clothing.
The moments this film did feel like a Tarantino were some of my favorites. The obscenity laced monologues by Samuel L. Jackson. The killings. The fact that it was the director’s voice as the annoying automated answering machine. The scene when Ordell first visits Jackie’s apartment shot almost completely in darkness, representative of much of the way the audience feels while watching the film itself. Who’s side Jackie is really on? Who has the power? When the end scene plays out in almost the same way, it is clear that we are not supposed to know the characters’ motives until the very end. QT is the master of the subversion; nothing in his films are ever quite what we expect them to be. Also, when we finally see the money switch (for real this time), it is shown from the perspective of all of the characters involved, giving new insights to each character’s behavior as the scene unfolds from a different angle. A classic QT filming technique.
Jackie Brown will in no way lessen my respect for Tarantino as a writer and director. It is a film that calls for a second viewing and a deeper understanding of the source material for a better appreciation. If anything it shows his range as a director; that he is capable of showing restraint and allowing for a slow build rather than his usual razzmatazz. I come to a QT film for the style and gratuitous violence, but I stay for the story and the characters. Jackie Brown has both of those things in spades.
- My favorite QT film is a 3 way tie between Resviour Dogs, Kill Bill: Vol 1, and Inglorious Basterds
- I thought Michael Keaton was Kiefer Sutherland in this film, even though that makes no sense. Don’t ask me why.