Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Stars: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster, Robert De Niro
Released: 25 December 1997
No spoilers to be found here!
Director Quentin Tarantino’s latest movie, The Hateful Eight, hits theaters later this week (in my country at least), so I thought this would be the perfect time to review the only Tarantino movie I haven’t seen before, Jackie Brown. Well, I have never seen Death Proof either, but nobody seems to like that one, so I think I’ll skip it. Is Jackie Brown a forgotten gem or is there a reason to why so many people haven’t heard of it? Look at the text below if you want my opinion.
Jackie Brown, played Pam Grier, is a middle-aged flight attendant with a few problems. She smuggles goods during her flights for gangster Ordell Robbie, played by Samuel L. Jackson. Right after her latest trip she gets arrested by detective Nicolette, played by Michael Keaton. The police wants her to cooperate in order to bring Ordell to prison, but Ordell wants her fool the cops so he can continue his operations. Needless to say, Jackie finds herself in a tricky situation.
The story may sound a bit convoluted, with a lot of different character, but believe me, you haven’t seen the first of it. There are so many different characters in this movie and at least six of them play a major part in the story. The writing is what you expect from a Tarantino-movie, witty dialogues and interesting situations. Throughout it’s 2,5 hour runtime the script always remains at least good, sometimes even great. The story isn’t the most interesting he’s ever written, but I don’t think it was supposed to. The movie puts a lot effort on it’s character and lets them breath, without the constraint of a too tightly written screenplay. As you become more and more invested in the characters, you become more engrossed in the narrative. A lot of Tarantino-movies go this route, (Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction comes to mind) but the cheer magnitude of well-written characters in Jackie Brown makes it work really well.
The same thing can be said for the character, there are a lot of them, and all of them has been written with good care. They aren’t some of Tarantino’s best, but they all have a constant, ever-present quality. Jackie Brown herself is great, and best of all, is unique. I have never seen such a character in a Tarantino-movie before, and I have seen almost all of them. Pam Grier plays the character with a bossy attitude, but also comes of as vulnerable when she needs to. In the end, I think the word “suave” describes her the best. She is probably my favorite character in the movie, mostly based on the fact the she is something I haven’t seen before. Ordell Robbie is a fun gangster, along with funny lines and is often placed in humorous situations. But he is also prone to anger and has an awful temper. Ordell is the crook you love and despise at the same time. This sounds like a great character for Samuel L. Jackson to play, and it is. He is the perfect person for the role, I wouldn’t be surprised if Tarantino wrote it directly for him. But therein lies a problem, Ordell is very similar to Jackson’s character in Pulp Fiction, Jules. Pulp Fiction came out three years earlier and was praised for it’s characters, especially Jules. I can understand why Tarantino included Jackson again, but I think more could have been done to differentiate the characters. As of now, I see Ordell as a bit of a watered down version of Jules, and that is a shame since I really like Samuels performance in both movies a lot. Robert De Niro, while playing a pretty small part, is equally good. He plays a grumpy old ex-convict, and delivers some of the movies best comedic moments. As I said, there are at least 3-4 more character worth mentioning, but you should really watch the movie and experience them for yourself. Repeating from earlier, every single character in the movie is at least good, some are great.
But in that lies some of the problems with the movie. While the script is indeed good, it’s never fantastic, like much of Pulp Fiction screenplay was. The movie has a constant good-level for story and characters, with a few mentioned exceptions. But it so very seldomly reaches above it, and since the writing and the performances are the best part of the movie it doesn’t quite deserve the title of a Tarantino classic. There are almost no lines from the movie that I can remember when writing the review, something I can recite from almost every other Tarantino-movie. The same thing applies to the character, very few I would consider rememberable. And none of them are bad, it’s just that they are either overshadowed by similar character from other Tarantino-movies or that they just aren’t that great to be worthy of remembrance.
But based on all these fact, Jackie Brown is still a pretty good movie. But I have more to criticize it for. I mentioned earlier that the story wasn’t that interesting, but worked in the sense that it let the characters be in the spotlight. The movie is two and a half hours long, and since the plot never really is that exiting, I can easily see some people being turned off by Jackie Brown. If you are like me however and like slow burns, this shouldn’t be a problems. I have to admit though, towards the 1,5 hour mark, when the movie had spent almost all its time on build-up, I did become a bit restless. But the plot of the second half of the movie does become more focused, and since the characters have been built up well enough, you do become engaged.
The second part however, does become a bit overly complex. After finishing the movie, I had a big question mark on my face and had to read up on the movie’s ending to see if I got it right. Well, I didn’t, and that really irritated me. I know this makes me sound a bit stupid, but let me explain without spoiling. The climax in the movie is an event that involves all the different characters in the movie doing different things, and I think that’s how it should be. When you have so many different characters, they should all play a part in the endgame of the movie. But in Jackie Brown, that means that you have to follow about six storylines at once, which makes it very hard to actually figure out what went down. I think Tarantino noticed that it was a bit overly complex and included a trial-climax. This is hard to explain without any spoilers, but just imagine the characters has to test the thing they do in the end beforehand, since they don’t know how it will play out. I thought that was really clever, the characters themselves has to train, and then you could simultaneously train the viewer for the actual event.
My problem with this, and also my major gripe with the movie, is that the training didn’t train me at all. The two events that take place have the same purpose, but aren’t very similar. The first one introduces two new characters, one that has no more use for the rest of the movie and one that actually just disappears. And they dedicate an entire sequence to this character, who then never shows up again. When watching that, I thought that they would play some major part of the real endgame, but no. An argument can be made that they had to be a bit different, since otherwise the real climax could loose a bit of its impact if the audience already has seen it. But when your movie’s ending is so complicated that you actually have to train the audience beforehand, but make this supposed training irrelevant to the actual event, I consider it bad writing and wasted time. How can a 2,5 hour long movie not make me understand what is going on in the end, even when they dedicate time to educate it’s viewers on what will go down later. And that was my biggest issue with Jackie Brown, feels nice now that I have it in words. I hope you won’t consider this section a spoiler, I tried my best to not reveal anything of import, I just had to express my thoughts on the subject.
Other than that, there really isn’t much more I have to say about this movie. Much like my summed up thoughts of the movie, every aspect, from cinematography to editing to music, is all good. I never thought that it was amazing, but I don’t expect that from a Tarantino and didn’t think much of it. I did however like the editing of the different characters situations in the “event” that occurs later in the movie. That was the only moment when I thought to myself “that was great editing”. All in all, the technical aspects of Jackie Brown follows a similar pattern to it’s screenplay, always good, sometimes great.
I’m glad that I finally saw Jackie Brown, to be able to remove it from my watchlist. Most of the things I expect from a Tarantino-movie are indeed here, like good dialogue and good characters. The problem is that it never blew me away. But like I said throughout this entire review, none of these aspect are ever bad, it’s just that they aren’t all great. My gripes with the plot of the second half ruined the experience a bit for me and makes me think lesser of it . In the end, I consider Jackie Brown a good movie which you should watch, but I don’t think this is a Tarantino-movie that I’ll be revisiting over and over.