Jackie Brown is unequivocally the most dissimilar Quentin Tarantino film that he has directed to date. Which is perhaps why it’s one of his best.
As opposed to the non-linear narratives of Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, Jackie Brown’s story relies not on its glossy aesthetics or visual flare, but on the pure storytelling of the director at the helm.
What does stay in the tradition of a Tarantino movie is the complexity of the plot.
Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) is a foxy flight attendant that gets arrested by a couple of ATF agents (played by Michael Keaton and Michael Bowen) catching her smuggling money and cocaine from Cabo to America.
But the two agents aren’t primarily after her, they want the source of the currency and narcotics: in particular an illegal arms dealer named Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson).
By arresting Brown in the beginning of the film, Tarantino effectively lays out his narrative. The ATF agents make a deal with Jackie to work for the Government, by going undercover and completing one more deal where they’ll be able to arrest Ordell and his accomplices.
This catapults Brown to numerous people and places: in order to release her from jail, Ordell has to pay bail. Accordingly, he goes to a bails bondsmen name Max Cherry (Robert Forester) who understands Ordell’s conspicuous business, but doesn’t ask questions.
The nuance in characterization doesn’t end there. Naturally Cherry must go to the prison to pick up Brown. He’s inexplicably instantly romantically drawn to her – Bloodstone’s Natural High plays in the background as she walks up, it’s a wonderful and pure moment of film.
To add to the mix of characters is Louis Gara (Robert De Niro), a bank robber who recently finished a 4-year bid in jail for (who would’ve guessed) robbing a bank. Gara is a seemingly subtle guy, but ends up having a hot temper. He assists Ordell in his illegal scheming.
With all the pieces of the puzzle in place, Tarantino reveals the crux of the crime: Ordell has a half million dollars in Cabo, but the only way for him to obtain the money is for Jackie to go over the border and smuggle it back to U.S. soil.
The 500,000 dollars acts as a springboard for personal motivations from all parties involved: the question is, who will survive when it’s all over? And most importantly, whose lap will the money fall into at the end of the day?
Jackie has many facets to her personality, and acts accordingly with whom ever she’s with: honest to Cherry, serious to the ATF, and sassy, strong-willed with Ordell. What most of the characters don’t know is the elaborate façade she’s putting up on all fronts.
That is, with the exception of Cherry – who is really the character we the audience can identify with, and look to for moral guidance. He’s sympathetic towards Brown, who confides to him that she’s been stuck in this dirty business for so long she can hardly tell right from wrong.
Brown and Cherry’s relationship – which operates romantically and cinematically – is the one aspect of the film worth caring for. Everyone else acts with little integrity: there truly isn’t a character (again with the exception of Cherry) that isn’t looking out for him or herself.
In some sort of homage to the Blaxploitation films of the 1970s, Jackie Brown isn’t your run-of-the-mill crime caper. This is a different breed of filmmaking where the characters have intelligence, and where spewing out forced exposition and lousy clichés to move along the narrative, is a thing of the past.
The construction of the climatic scene (in which perspectives of each character apart of the half million dollar pick up at the mall, are shown) reveals the prowess and ingenuity behind Jackie Brown.
Tarantino is more restraint here (likely because he’s adapting from an American novel by Elmore Leonard), thus making his execution tougher and grittier than anything he’s produced prior.
For once in Tarantino’s oeuvre, he’s made a film that’s more about substance than style.
In fact, Jackie Brown may just be his masterpiece.