WEEK 10- "J"


Nominees:  Jackie Brown, Jaws, Jeremiah Johnson, Judgment at Nuremberg, Jungle Fever

Winner:  Jackie Brown

Background:  For the uninformed, 1997's Jackie Brown was Quentin Tarantino's third film and follow-up to his phenomenally successful and award-winning Pulp Fiction from 1995.  It is also, to this date, Tarantino's only film adapted from outside material, Elmore Leonard's crime novel Rum Punch, instead of his own original screenplay.  While Jackie Brown didn't perform to the level of Pulp Fiction, it's a great combination of Elmore Leonard cool and Quentin's homage to the blaxploitation films of the 1970's.  

The female face the blaxploitation movement, Pam Grier, plays the title character, a middle-aged fledgling flight attendant for a crappy Mexican airline flying out of L.A.  She makes some money on the side smuggling cash into the country for Compton gun runner Ordell Robbie (the smooth Samuel L. Jackson), who hangs around his employees Louis (Robert De Niro), a former cellmate, and Melanie (Bridget Fonda), his little beach blond concubine.  When she's pinched for this activity by LAPD detective Mark Dargas (Michael Bowen) and ATF agent Ray Nicolette (Michael Keaton), Jackie fears the retribution of Ordell more than potential jail time.

Confiding in a local bail bondsman, Max Cherry (the pitch-perfect Robert Forster), Jackie hatches a plan to play both sides so that everyone gets what they want.  Ordell wants his half million dollars of savings up from Mexico.  The fuzz wants to catch him in the act with guns and Jackie wants off the hook.  A nice little sunny California heist film develops and wild cards pop up to muddy the water before the credits roll.

Author Elmore Leonard called Jackie Brown, at the time, the best adaptation of one of his novels for the big screen, and that included the more showered L.A. Confidential from the very same year.  Like John Travolta in Pulp Fiction and with his penchant to homage older films, Quentin's creative casting resurrected the careers of lead stars Pam Grier and Robert Forster after Jackie Brown.  Upon its release during the holiday and Oscar season of 1997, it was easily overshadowed by the juggernaut of Titanic , the comedy awards sweep of As Good as It Gets, the other Leonard adaptation in L.A. Confidential, and by the legacy of audiences expecting something that looks like Pulp Fiction 2.  15 years later.  This film holds up very well.

Reaction:  5 STARS— I’ll say it right now.  I’m a big fan of Jackie Brown. It’s arguably Tarantino’s most approachable film and straightest story when compared to the dancing timelines of Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, and his Kill Bill pair.  Like all of his films, Jackie Brown is definitely dialogue-driven.  If you get bored by his long takes of chatterbox characters, Jackie Brown will test that patience but it moves a LOT better than something like his Grindhouse half, Deathproof.   I think having the boundaries of adapting Leonard’s novel helped trim a few Tarantino tangents.

Even though this film pushes past two-and-a-half hours, the forward direction of the plot keeps things moving with minimal repeat.  This movie exudes coolness on every level.  Jackie Brown looks cool and sounds cool every second it’s moving.  Jackie and Max, played by a pair of ultra-cool 70’s relics in the form of Grier and Forster, are fascinating characters to root for.  Samuel L. Jackson hits the ball out of the ballpark with an engrossing and detailed villain character than can make you laugh in the same minute that he sends chills down your back.  With Quentin Tarantino being the film dork that he is, little elements of coolness come out from all directions.  He drops stylistic homages to his many film influences, employs solid and clever camera work, and pumps a dynamite soundtrack that almost becomes its own character in the film.  If you’ve never seen Jackie Brown, give it a shot.   

LESSON #1: IF YOU NEED TO KILL EVERY PERSON IN A ROOM, GET AN AK-47--  "Accept no substitutes."  Too easy of a lesson.  I couldn't resist including this rant.

LESSON #2: BE CAREFUL WHO YOU WORK FOR— Ordell Robbie is a very unique “boss.”  You will see in Jackie Brown that his employees and stakeholders are highly accountable for their actions and mistakes.  Maybe those people should rethink getting in bed with Ordell Robbie.

LESSON #3: PLAYING BOTH SIDES IS A SLIPPERY SLOPE— Jackie sets up a plan to play both sides and come out ahead.  There’s a great deal of both inherent and invisible risk in taking this route.  It’s a good thing Jackie has a pretty good plan.

LESSON #4: FLEETING CHANCES THAT COME WITH AGE— Some of the best scenes in Jackie Brown are shared between Jackie and Max.  Both middle-aged and single, they both take stock and reexamine their lives at this crux they share.  They see how the chances to set their lives up and find happiness are fading with age.  Even though they come from opposite places, they really click on their similarities that deal with this lesson.