- Rated R
- Buy the Blu-ray
All photos © Miramax
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
f there’s one thing you need to know about “Jackie Brown” more than anything else, it’s that it’s probably the most underrated movie of Quentin Tarantino’s career. That might be up for debate after the fallout of the “Grindhouse” experiment, but it doesn’t change the fact that Tarantino’s mostly faithful adaptation of the Elmore Leonard crime novel, “Rum Punch,” never really got the attention it deserved. Granted, "Pulp Fiction” was never going to be an easy act to follow, but despite its unusually straightforward narrative and surprising lack of pop culture references, “Jackie Brown” is still loaded with all the crisp dialogue, trademark camera work, and memorable characters that we’ve come to expect from every Tarantino film.
Pam Grier stars as the title character, a 44-year-old flight attendant of a rinky-dink Mexican airline who’s just been arrested for smuggling $50,000 into California for charismatic arms dealer Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson). Forced to choose between the potentially fatal decision to snitch on Ordell to ATF agent Ray Nicolette (Michael Keaton) and doing time in prison, Jackie comes up with a plan to clear her name and get all $500,000 of Ordell’s gun money across the border without anyone being the wiser. But when she meets a kindly bail bondsman named Max Cherry (Robert Forster) who falls head over heels for her, Jackie asks for his help in coming up with a new plan to double-cross Ordell and split the money between the two of them.
It’s the kind of story that Tarantino loves to tell (ripe with tension-filled confrontations that only benefit from his sharp dialogue), and although he certainly takes his time to tell it, the lengthy runtime gives him room to fully develop the characters. But while Tarantino has done well to adapt Leonard’s novel for the big screen, his biggest achievement as a director here is in the performances he gets from his actors. Having already revived John Travolta’s career in “Pulp Fiction,” it’s great to see screen vets like Pam Grier and Robert Forster delivering some of the best work of their careers – particularly the latter, who was justly rewarded with an Oscar nod for his turn as the plucky bail bondsman.
And though he’ll forever be remembered for a completely different Tarantino role, Samuel L. Jackson is wildly entertaining (if a tad over the top) as the Kangol-wearing gunrunner with an icy glare. Robert De Niro also delivers a short but memorable performance as Ordell’s just-out-of-prison partner in crime, while Bridget Fonda’s perpetually-stoned beach bunny proves to be an amusing foil for both men. But while De Niro may not have very many lines in the film, the little subtleties in his body language are bigger than words. Just like Max, Jackie, and even her outdated album collection (a hodgepodge of 70s R&B hits like The Delphonic’s “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)”), De Niro’s Louis is just another dinosaur who's trying to survive in a dog-eat-dog world. “Jackie Brown” may look like your average crime thriller from the outside, but what Tarantino has created is so much richer – a multi-layered story about the vulnerability and loneliness of getting older that, ironically, only gets better with age.
Single-Disc Blu-ray Review:
Unlike “Pulp Fiction,” the “Jackie Brown” Blu-ray doesn’t come with a cool retrospective featurette or Lossless Audio track, but it does boast an equally impressive high-def video transfer and a brand new film critic roundtable ("Breaking Down Jackie Brown") moderated by Elvis Mitchell. Additionally, all of the extras from the DVD release have been carried over, including the pop-up trivia track, deleted scenes, Siskel and Ebert’s video review from "At the Movies," a series of MTV interviews, and several archived reviews and articles about the movie. The best of the bunch, however, is a making-of documentary called “How It Went Down” that focuses on all of the actors involved in the film, and a lengthy interview with Tarantino that makes up for the lack of a commentary.