Jackie Brown (1997) review

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Jackie Brown is the third picture Quentin Tarantino directed and is a departure from many things typically expected from him. Namely, the film is considerably less bloody and has a smaller body count than his other works. It’s also his only script to date that has been adapted from a previous piece of writing. In this case it’s Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch.  After Pulp Fiction, this was the right decision for Tarantino. Instead of making the same film again, he makes something very different from his first two, that still retains the best elements of his work. I’m not talking about the extreme violence, I’m talking about the dialogue. I’m not trying to pick on his other films (he has one of the better filmographies of modern directors) but what he did good in Jackie Brown was tone down the violence, slow the pace and focus more on the well drawn characters. While the slower pace and complex story might turn viewers off, it’s really not what the film’s about. It’s about the characters.

Pam Grier is splendid as Jackie Brown, playing a smart, confident protagonist who is one step ahead of everyone else. Robert Forster (who received an oscar nomination for the film) is also great as Max Cherry. He does a lot with his expressions alone, such as one of my favorite moments when he is really pleased with himself after he picks up a Delfonics album on cassette. I also love the scene when he comes to Jackie’s apartment to pick up his gun. Grier and Forster work really well together and share some of the best scenes in the film. Samuel L. Jackson does good as Ordell Robbie, and has some of the most humorous lines in the picture. Michael Keaton is also adequate as Ray, the agent who’s after Ordell. That’s not to say he’s bad, he just does an okay job. It’s a very Michael Keaton role. Robert De Niro is also here, playing, well, the stereotypical Robert De Niro character. This is not a problem though, because he’s still a lot of fun. There’s a hilarious moment near the end where he forgets where he parked his car. Bridget Fonda also gets some of her best lines in the picture here, “How did you ever rob a bank? When you robbed banks, did you forget where your car was then too? No wonder you went to jail.”

Another great scene is when Fonda and De Niro are alone in Ordell’s apartment discussing old photos. The film has a superb soundtrack. Being a Tarantino work, it’s made up of mostly needle drops of popular seventies music. Some bits of music from Grier’s earlier film, Coffy also make their way in and are used well. This is especially emphasised in scenes with the Delfonics song “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time),” and “Across A 110 Street.” In interviews Tarantino has described that putting the perfect song in the right scene is a real art form, and I think those two songs especially embody this idea.
To summarize, I think that Tarantino made a really wise decision for his follow up to Pulp Fiction. He made a very different, but still very good film. With it’s great acting, characters, soundtrack, and dialogue, Jackie Brown shines as an underrated gem from one of the finest directors of our time.

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