In 1994, hip director Quentin Tarantino made a splashy debut with the intense and funny crime story, "Pulp Fiction". While he was lathered with acclaim and awards, many wondered what else this new kid on the block had up his sleeve. Was he a one-hit wonder? That question was answered in 1997, when Tarantino successfully adapted Elmore Leonard's classic novel, "Rum Punch".Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) is a tired, run-down flight attendant in her mid-forties. After years of clashing with the law, she finds herself at the bottom of the economical ladder. She is a woman who is very close to unemployment, and is scared to death that her life is coming to an end. She soon finds a lucrative opportunity in Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson), a fast-talking weapons dealer with a lot of money to his name. In the meantime, Jackie falls in love with Max Cherry (Robert Forster), a bail bondsman who shares similar concerns with Jackie...
"Tarantino's secret weapon."
In adapting "Rum Punch", Tarantino made one significant change: Instead of having the heroine, Jackie Burke, be a white woman, he would change her into a black woman. In doing so, he made the character, Jackie Brown (amended to refer to Grier's classic movie role, Foxy Brown), that much more desperate, and anxious to grasp on to what she has left. One wouldn't think that the jive-talking style of Tarantino would mesh well with the classy smooth language of Leonard, but that's what makes "Jackie Brown" such a unique work, as well as a gem of modern cinema.
Pam Grier ("Coffy") is absolutely sensational in the title role. Every facial expression and line delivery brings home the attitude and fears that Jackie has about the world around her. She is close to disappearing, but she's not ready to give up just yet. Grier is strong, sexy, and emotionally available. She is a splendid protagonist. Robert Forster ("Medium Cool") returns to the spotlight to give a nuanced performance as Max. As with Grier, it is the subtle touches that give Forster his color. In his eyes, body language, and vocal inflection, we can see the world-weariness that Cherry feels in everyday life, and more particularly, his occupation.
As Ordell, Samuel L. Jackson (who gave one of the finest performances of the nineties in "Pulp Fiction") does some of his funniest, most distinctive work here. When Jackson is on screen, you cannot take your eyes off him. He is charismatic, even if his character is truly repugnant. Being a fan of "Pulp", I was not surprised to see that Jackson can also be nightmarishly intimidating. While it may seem that he has been handed a thin character in first-class boob Louis Garrell, Robert De Niro’s ("Meet the Parents") greatest achievement is actually making sense of a guy who says next to nothing for the duration of the running time. Like Forster, De Niro uses technique (and an odd sense of humor) to tell us everything that we need to know about him. Bridget Fonda ("A Simple Plan") gives her best performance yet as Melanie, the sneaky and ditzy beach bunny. Finally, Chris Tucker ("Rush Hour") works wonders in his brief role as Beaumont Livingston.
“Jackie Brown” has everything I have come to love about Tarantino’s work: Eclectic casting choices, interesting shots, challenging material, and high intensity. But it also has something a bit more than that. Everytime I view this movie, what continues to catch me off-guard in the sweet romance that blooms between Jackie and Cherry, and how genuine it is. It is refreshing to watch two beautiful, middle aged people share the same kind of intimacy that we usually see from much younger movie stars. "Jackie Brown" is the most unconventional of love stories, and that is what makes it so charming, and so alarmingly easy to connect with.
Another element that separates itself from the pumped-up action that Tarantino is so well-known for is the character development. One criticism that is constantly address is that the film moves very slowly. I have to disagree with this, as there is not one scene in present that does not either further the story along, or aid the audience in getting into the characters’ heads. The leisurely pace of "Jackie Brown" works to its advantage. By the end of the film, these are not names on a script page; these are good friends. Tarantino also deserves credit for an elaborately-staged heist in the story’s final act.While "Pulp Fiction" and "Kill Bill" are Tarantino's more well-known works, "Jackie Brown" is a masterpiece that I hope will find an audience over the following years. It is deep, suspenseful, leisurely paced, and unexpectedly humorous. The best part? You don't even have to be a Tarantino fan to enjoy it.
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originally posted: 03/29/05 06:40:28