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!