Tarantino’s most underrated flick might also be his best and most complete film from all his filmography. It is his most arresting feature because the plot, while being more traditional than his other films, depends solely on the intriguing characters. The same could be said about the characters in Pulp Fiction, but since all of Tarantino’s ambitions are put on screen, to great effect, the film isn’t stripped back and disciplined. But the quick and sharp dialogue with the out of sequence storytelling makes it unique especially for its time and made it the classic that it rightfully is. As much as I love all the characters in Pulp Fiction, I can’t say that I truly understood or knew the characters or their motivations for doing some of the things they do. The film is simply bits and pieces that were connected masterfully with great dialogue and could have been an actual B- movie if it was in the hands of a less capable director. Jackie Brown is a film adaptation of the novel “Rum Punch” which was new territory for Tarantino and here he wouldn’t need to worry about the material as much since it’s already out there. This adaptation would require him to be disciplined with a more structurally familiar crime narrative where all the characters are trying to double cross each other left and right, but Tarantino adds his usual smart and witty dialogue with compelling and fully drawn out characters to the table.
In Jackie Brown, even the characters that have the shortest screen time are unforgettable like Melanie played by Bridget Fonda who is Ordell’s cool surfer gal living in one of Ordell’s establishments and whose ambition in life is to get high and watch TV, an admirable ambition. Ordell is a criminal who is extremely proud of himself for being in the arms dealership business and unlike most criminals on screen, once he acquires the amount of money he needs for his retirement he plans to kick back for the rest of his life. Samuel L. Jackson plays Ordell to perfection even more so than his famous Ezekiel quoting role as Jules in Pulp Fiction although they’re completely different characters; Ordell can be absolutely hilarious and playful at times without losing what makes him menacing. In one of my favorite scenes, he picks up one of his associates after bailing him out of jail and convinces him to get in the trunk of his car by luring him in with promises of chicken and waffles without the character realizing that Ordell is driving him to his own funeral.
The main story revolves around a flight attendant, Jackie Brown, who is involved with Ordell; she brings in lots of money from Mexico through her occupation. Jackie Brown played by Pam Grier is a strong, smart and independent female character and you can’t help but admire her conviction and possibly fall in love with her just like Max did. Max is a bond bailsman who Ordell asks to bail Jackie out of jail after she gets arrested for possession of cocaine with intention to distribute on top of the fifty thousand dollars that she would normally carry for Ordell. The off screen romance that develops between Jackie and Max is perhaps the biggest surprise of the movie and one that develops naturally like Linklater’s “Before” trilogies. They connect in a believable way by discussing about growing old, the hypothetical and through The Delfonics’ song “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time?”.
The endless amount of fascinating characters in this film continue with Ordell’s ex-bank robber friend Lewis played by Robert DeNiro who just got released from prison. Lewis comes off as a dimwit but also has serious anger issues, and he spends most of the film being high and useless even more so than Melanie. Some of my favorite scenes are the ones with Lewis, scenes where he is spacing out completely or ones in which he doesn’t say much and seems indifferent to everything but also looks like he could snap at any moment. Rey played by Michael Keaton is the cool cop who is also working with Jackie Brown to bring down Ordell; he is another character fascinated by Jackie as we see him unnecessarily taking his informant to dinner to discuss plans. Jackie seems to hold all the cards, but until the final moments of the film you’re still not sure how things will play out and what awaits our lead character. The film is an absolute delight from start to finish and not everybody will appreciate this film since it isn’t as quickly explosive as his other films. Most of the violence in the movie happens off screen, but that actually favors the movie’s laid back vibe. The soundtrack fits so well with the style of the film and once again Tarantino shows that he can match a scene with the perfect song especially the use of “Across 110th Street” as the opening and closing song of the film; the song really is the soundtrack to Jackie Brown’s life. This is a film I will want to come back to at least once a year. I don’t remember loving it the first time I saw it, but it’s just a movie that gets better with each viewing; it’s that good. (10/10)