Thursday, February 10, 2011

Jackie Brown (1997)

Title: Jackie Brown (1997)

Director/Writer: Quentin Tarantino (Based on the novel ‘Rum Punch’ by Elmore Leonard)

Cast: Pamela Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Deniro, Robert Foster, Bridget Fonda, Michael Keaton, Chris Tucker

Jackie Brown is one big, gigantic, bombastic love letter to blaxpoitation films of the seventies. But of course, a film like Jackie Brown, coming from Quentin Tarantino, makes all the sense in the world. If I didn’t know any better, I would say that Tarantino was black. But he isn’t, Tarantino is a whitey. Still, he may be white on the outside, but his soul is blacker then James Brown on the inside! Tarantino has had a love affair with blacksploitation films for the longest time, it’s evident in many of his films, most notably Pulp Fiction (1994). There’s always a nod to some obscure blacksploitation film in his own films. But Jackie Brown takes the taco as the biggest, baddest and blackest of them all.

On this film we follow the life of Jackie Brown, a stewardess of the skies who likes to make a little extra on the side by smuggling money from Mexico to the United States for a gun dealer. Problem is she’s been caught with some cash and some cocaine on her, so she gets sent to jail. When we first meet her, she is just getting out of jail and trying to pick up the pieces of her life. Trying to start anew; this means of course pulling off one last score that will set her up for the rest of her life. Will she be able to pull it off and live a worry free life? Or will she continue to live the life of a hustler, always looking for the next ‘get rich quick’ scheme?

How black is this movie? This is how black: there is no musical score for this film; instead, Tarantino chose a bunch of songs he liked from a bunch of blacksploitation films from the seventies. The soundtrack plays like a blacksploitation compilation of songs from films like Coffy (1973), Foxy Brown (1974), Across 110th Street (1972) and black artists like Bobby Womack, The Supremes and The Delfonics. The most notable song in the film is “Across 110th Street” which appears in the opening and closing credits of the film as a way to introduce and say good bye to the character of Jackie Brown. And as it usually happens in Tarantino films, the song fits perfectly with the character and situation. If we analyze the lyrics to this song, we can get to know who Jackie is, what she’s living through and her state of mind. Let’s analyze the song for a moment shall we?

Song starts out by saying “Doing whatever I had to do to survive, I’m not saying what I did was alright, trying to break out of the ghetto was a day to day fight” which perfectly describes who Jackie Brown is. She’s planning her way out of poverty and she’s willing to take some risks if she has to. She’s even willing to do illegal things like smuggling money from one country to another. She may not be doing something honest, but hey, this is a dog eat dog world, and she’s doing what she’s gotta do to survive. She’s looking out for number one; herself. Gotta give it to her, she’s putting all that’s street smart to good use!

The song continues “Been down so long, getting up didn’t cross my mind, I knew there was a better way of life that I was just trying to find” This line lets us see that she’s tired of the hard life. She’s sick of working on a low paying job in the bad side of town, she wants a better life for herself and she’s going to do whatever she has to do to get it. Basically, she’s planning this huge heist so that she can finally stop struggling to survive. She continuously complaints that because she went to prison, she hasn’t been able to get any good paying jobs. Best she could do was flight attendant. And since she just got out of jail again, she thinks it will only get worse. So she plans her big get away.

Then the song says “you don’t know what you’ll do under pressure, 110th is a hell of a tester” which is exactly the situation she is in. She is under pressure for two reasons, the cops are on to her, and they want to use her to catch the big fish. So she’s under pressure from both camps; the good guys and the bad guys. Another line of the song says “Pimps trying to catch a woman that’s weak”. Notice how that line says “trying to catch a woman that’s weak”, but Jackie Brown aint weak! She’s one tough cookie mama! They can’t catch her no matter how much they try, she’s too smart for them, too slick. You get the feeling while watching this movie that Jackie is always one step ahead of everyone on the film. The song continues saying “Woman trying to catch a trick on the street” which explains what she is doing by pulling off this one final trick. In other words, Jackie Brown is willing to do whatever it takes to get out. “You got to be strong if you want to survive” says to the song to Jackie as she sings it driving in her car. I love how Tarantino had Jackie actually sing the lyrics to the song, showing us how much she identifies with it, how much it means to her. The song perfectly embodies her whole struggle, which is genius on Tarantino’s part. Plus, its such a damn good song, I havent been able to stop humming it for the past few days!

Tarantino enjoys working next to one of his favorite movie Icons of the seventies, Pamela Grier!

Best thing about this movie is watching Pamela Grier enjoying her big come back and making the most of it. She really pulls off this street smart, lonely chick trying to outsmart the world type of character. She’s a loner, looking out for no one else but herself. And well, maybe her bail bondsman Max Cherry, an old dude that’s kind of got the hots for her and decides to help her out. I love the fact that there is some sexual tension between them, but nothing ever comes of it. Max is just a good guy who is smitten by this street smart girl and wants to help her out. I guess he kind of gets how much of a struggle her life is, and also, I think he admires how much of a fighter she is. He quickly sees that she aint any ordinary lady, she’s a fighter who’s lead a tough life. Foster plays it cool, as if he knows he is probably too old for Jackie, but he still finds her incredibly attractive. Cant blame the man, Grier looks great for her age on this film. Her character perfectly walks the line between good girl and bad girl, you never truly know what to expect from her.

Tarantino made sure that the rest of the cast was equally amazing. Samuel L. Jackson plays a villain who goes by the name of Ordell, but he isn’t a likable villain. No, this guy has some evil in his eyes. Deniro plays Louis Gara, an ex-con who just got out of jail. He plays it cool for most of the film, smoking weed with Bridget Fonda’s Melanie, Ordelle’s brain dead girlfriend. The cast is rounded out by Michael Keaton who plays the cop who’s trying to use Jackie Brown to get to Ordell. So all in all, we have another star studded cast from Tarantino, gotta hand it to him, he really does find the right actors for the right roles.

Finally, this is the only film that isn’t 100% pure Tarantino because the script he wrote was based on Elmore Leonard’s novel ‘Rum Punch’. Maybe thats why some people get turned off by this film, but in all honesty, this is very much a Tarantino flick. What Tarantino did was he basically took Leonard's novel and made it his own. He made the main character black, added some soul to the whole thing and gave it the Tarantino stamp. That means an awesome soundtrack, girls walking around barefoot, long shots that don’t cut for a long time, scenes shot from the trunk of a car, and finally, that awesome blacksploitation vibe, no doubt derived from years and years of watching groundhouse films. Thank the movie gods that these films keep inspiring Tarantino through out his career! There are lots of in-jokes on this movie, if you are a Tarantino fan, and a fan of grindhouse films, you’ll probably catch them. (Hint: Sid Haig plays a judge!) So anyways, all in all, I enjoyed this flick a whole lot more watching it after all these years, turns out this is yet another great Tarantino film. Don’t know why it gets labeled as the one that people like the least; Pamela Grier is so damn likable on this flick.

Rating: 5 out of 5

This is a Tarantino film alright!

Jackie Brown (Two-Disc Collector's Edition)Jackie BrownPulp Fiction (Two-Disc Collector's Edition)CoffyAcross 110th StreetFoxy Brown


Jack L said...

Great film, but then again I say that about every Tarantino film!

De Niro was hilarious in this, but the whole cast was just amazing. I was amused by Chris Tucker's small role...

Great review, BTW I watched If... which you recommended in your last review and I loved it! Really great film and I wouldn't have watched it so soon if I hadn't read your review, so Thank you!

Franco Macabro said...

Love hearing replies like this, glad you enjoyed If...Jack!

It's kind of difficult not to like a Tarantino movie, he puts so much cool stuff in them. Totally agree about Deniro, he kind of plays it cool on this one, but you get the feeling that there is a dark side to him.

Love in the dialog in the film as well:

"AK-47. The very best there is. When you absolutely, positively got to kill every motherfucker in the room, accept no substitutes!"

Jack L said...

Yeah, great dialogue, that's Tarantino's forte I think, no one does dialogue like he does.
Also his use of music, which you pointed out very well in the review, is always exceptional.

That quote is awesome, Sam Jackson's never been as good as when he was in Tarantino's films...

This all makes me want to watch Jackie Brown again...

Sammy V said...

Jackie Brown was a pleasant surprise for me. I'm also a sucker for Tarantino films. They are always so f--ing badass!

Franco Macabro said...

@Jack L: Yeah, Tarantino's dialog is what distinguishes his films. In fact, when you watch his movies you notice that certain phrases and ways of saying things pop up over and over again.

Some people considered the dialog in Death Proof to be excessive and unnecesary, that the characters were talking too much bullshit. But even then some people defended the film saying "yeah, but its Tarantino bullshit, and it's still entertaining" I agree with that point of view.

@SAmmy V: Hey Sammny, agree, I find it extremely difficult to find a Tarantino film that I didnt like! I just wish he didnt take so long between films! Im always looking forward to whatever he makes.

I remember when I was in the theater watching Kill Bill I felt like FINALLY, I was watching a Tarantino film, and to top things off KILL BILL was so damn fun.

I love that old school sensibility that he applies to his films, its like he takes these old b-movies, these grindhouse low buddget films, and pays homage to them by making them even better then they ever were.

Looking forward to whatever the hell he is currently working on, Im sure its something cool.

Franco Macabro said...

And by the way, Jack L and Sammy V, welcome to the blog! Thanks for joining, hope you guys stick around!

Same goes to all you new readers out there!

venoms5 said...

I think this, RESERVOIR DOGS and PULP FICTION are his three best movies. For me, anyways, I wouldn't necessarily say his movies were better than the older ones he constantly pilfers from since he lifted dialog and dialog passages from those older movies. He's good at writing dialog, yes, but not when some of it isn't his to begin with.

JACKIE BROWN was the last good movie he did, in my opinion. I do remember when he was promoting it, he suddenly changed his speech as if he'd just crawled out of the ghetto and shot a gangsta rap video. ACROSS 110TH STREET is a great film, but I don't consider it a blaxploitation movie. One of the best crime/mafia dramas of the 70s that doesn't get enough discussion. JACKIE BROWN resembles those movies in places, but focusing more on serious characterization than comic book theatrics. Robert Forster was great in this, too.

A loving write up as always, Fran! I'm curious to hear your thoughts on his other movies. I have yet to see his INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS.

Franco Macabro said...

Thanks for the insightful comments Brian, the way I see it, Tarantino sees all these grindhouse films and makes an amalgamation of everything he's seen, and voila, he gives birth to an awesome movie. The thing I like about Tarantino movies is that they have that grindhouse sensibility, but with higher production values then the films he is paying homage too. And I love how he gets such stelar casts rounded up for his movies.

Duuuude, you need to see Inglorious Bastards! It's one of Tarantino's most polished films. It's violent, funny, so well shot, so well acted! The german actor, Fasbender, who plays the main, what a performance! The film has some exquisitely orchestrated moments filled with'll see what I mean. And again, another great cast!

Apparently Tarantino was out to make his masterpiece with Inglorious Bastards, I have a feeling that maybe after you see it, you'll put it high up on your "best Tarantino films" list.

What about the KILL BILL films? I would think you'd eat those up, considering that these films pay homage to films like LADY SNOWBLOOD, and many others I know you love like SHOGUN ASSASI. These are both amazing films. Tarantino couldnt improve on these, they are excellent films.

But for example, THRILLER: A CRUEL PICTURE is a film that highly influenced KILL BILL, and in my opinion, Tarantino not only payed homage to that film, but he raised the whole idea to higher levels of quality. I enjoyed THRILLER, but some elements of the film cheapend it for me, specifically the real porn that is spliced into the picture.

I need to see SAMURAI REINCARNATION, because I've read it was also a big influence on KILL BILL Vol. 1, you seen that one man?

venoms5 said...

KILL BILL was okay the first time around. I saw it in the theater. Saw it again and saw it from a different perspective that will take too long to go over here. Both films were shot as one initially and split afterward.

Which was a wise move as if they'd been released together, it would have been the most uneven, bewilderingly sloppy movie to come out in years. How do you make a seriously OOT two hours then switch gears to straightforward, serious exposition and long, drawn out sequences backed by musical cues from better movies that seldom fit what's transpiring on screen?

QT is in love with himself and got pie faced (along with RR) when that miserable movie GRINDHOUSE (I hate that word now), the 55 million faux exploitation movie, came out and bombed.

People either loved it, or hated it. I fall into the latter camp. But regarding INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, what was the point of the mangled spelling of the title? I heard it was explained in the movie.

Franco Macabro said...

I enjoyed how the film was out of order, I find it interesting how we can see films out of order, and yet, in the end, you completely understand them and get them.

Good examples of this type of filmmaking are Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's 21 GRAMS and most recently Gaspar Noe's ENTER THE VOID. You see both of those films, and by the end of both, you dont feel you saw a mess, even though they were completely out of order. I think they same thing can be applied to Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction.

Didn't you love all the Kung Fu madness on that one? It was a total homage to Kung Fu movies! What about that flying guillotinesque weapon? I guess I'll see if I can find your review on that one, see what irked ya about it.

Im one of the ones who enjoyed GRINDHOUSE, I thought it was a fun time at the movies. Robert Rodriguez went totally over the top, violence, zombies and gore to the MAX, plus, he really made his film look old and scratched.

Tarantino went with his homage to car chase movies, and orchestrated a cool chase sequence. True characters talk a lot of unnecessary bullshit through out the movie, but in my opinion, the dialog is still entertaining. I know it was a huge bomb at the box office, which actually made both directors sharpen their directorial knives. But still, I thought Grindhouse was just a misunderstood film. The whole concept of having two movies in one, some people just didn't get.

The point behind the misspelling goes something like this: When asked for an explanation of the film's title spelling during a news conference at the Cannes Film Festival, Tarantino said, "I'm never going to explain that". When pushed on it, Tarantino would not explain the first u in Inglourious, but said, "The Basterds? That's just the way you say it: Basterds." Tarantino later stated in an interview that the misspelled title is "a Basquiat-esque touch." He further commented on Late Show with David Letterman that Inglourious Basterds is the "Tarantino way of spelling it."

I guess he just wanted to give it his own personal touch.

BRENT said...

Absolutely agree with you as I can't undersatand why people dilike this Taratino outing. I think it is a great film and shows that Taratino is not a one dimensional film maker.
I think the problem With Jackie Brown is that he made it after Pulp Fiction and no matter what he made it would be unfairly compared to that last outing.
Fiction and Brown are poles apart in style and should be looked at as the individual films they are.

Franco Macabro said...

Totally agree with you Brent, following up Pulp Fiction proved to be no easy task! People were probably expecting something similar, and in many ways, it is. But in many ways it's also a very different film, and should be seen as such.

I gotta admit, it took me a while to really admire Jackie Brown for what it is, I was one of those that was expecting another Pulp Fiction. I guess now that we know what Tarantino is all about, after seeing all of his films, I can see it in a different way and I see where he was coming from with it and what he was trying to achieve. Turns out, now I love it!


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