With the exception of Death Proof, crime action-thriller Jackie Brown is probably the most overlooked of Quentin Tarantino’s films, with both Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction being perpetually drooled over by film fans instead. The story of Jackie Brown is based on a 1995 crime novel entitled Rum Punch’by Elmore Leonard, and the setting feels similar to a couple of Tarantino’s other films; there are hard-ass gangsters, high as the sky party girls, guns, and some shootings. Despite these familiar ingredients of a Tarantino film it is very different from the director’s superior productions: Jackie Brown lacks the sharp, witty dialogue of Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, and the dynamic characters of not only these but also the more recent Inglourious Basterds. These shortcomings lead Jackie Brown to ultimately be a decent film, but comparatively little more than a shadow of the majority of Tarantino’s brilliant work.
The story concerns the titular Jackie (Pam Grier), an air stewardess, who is busted at LA X airport with a huge bundle of cash which she has smuggled from Mexico for ruthless gun-runner Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson). The cop (Michael Keaton) who arrests Jackie wants her to help him to put the dangerous Ordell behind bars by agreeing to arrange another heist with the gun-salesman and to this time keep the police informed about the details so they can catch him. Meanwhile, Ordell merely wants his money and involves his constantly stoned, carefree beach bunny room-mate (Bridget Fonda) and fresh out of jail meathead Louis (Robert de Niro) in the plan to take it from under the nose of the police. Jackie, however, intends to fool both parties and take off with Ordell’s money herself, with the help of her bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster) who becomes attracted to the stewardess after he retrieves her from jail.
From the moment Jackie Brown begins, you can tell immediately that it was crafted by Tarantino - the funky music and the way it’s shot scream his unique style. However two major traits which seem to characterise his films are largely missing from Jackie Brown - ‘Royale with Cheese’ level dialogue, and dynamic, truly memorable characters. None of the characters have as much charisma as Bill from Kill Bill: Volume 2, and Jackson’s Ordell Robbie is a pale imitation of Pulp’s Jules. The characters were very much lacklustre and largely forgettable in comparison with characters from the other films I have mentioned; Pulp’s Vincent and Jules comprise the best film duo I have ever seen, and I was completely blown away by Brad Pitt’s Lt. Aldo Raine and Christoph Waltz’s Col. Hans Lander in Inglourious Basterds.
Another downside to this film is that it is much too long - 2 hours and 35 minutes is really pushing it as the plot did not necessitate such length. I was surprised to discover after watching it that Pulp Fiction exceeds Jackie Brown in length by 5 minutes - the difference is that the latter feels long, whereas the former doesn’t at all, and I think this is the main difference between a good film and a spectacular film - if it feels like it’s dragging then it’s not doing its job properly, and that job is to entertain the audience.
My verdict is that Jackie Brown’ is an enjoyable, interesting and stylish film, with a high level of acting skill, although it is too long and does not reflect Tarantino’s full talent as a director. Ordell is quite a scary, unpredictable character, so I was eager to see if Jackie would get away with double-crossing him, and if she would simultaneously succeed in fooling the police. It is worth a watch if you enjoy crime or action-thriller films, or if, like me, you enjoy Tarantino’s work, as it exudes his characteristic edgy style in spades.
For a frame of reference, I have included my ratings for the rest of QT’s films:
Reservoir Dogs: 10/10
Pulp Fiction: 10/10
Kill Bill Volume 1: 9/10
Kill Bill Volume 2: 9/10
Death Proof: 8/10
Inglourious Basterds: 9/10