Quentin Tarantino’s third film Jackie Brown is the film we go to for ‘J’ in this year’s Alphabet challenge. The film, based on Elmore Leonard’s book Rum Punch came out in 1997 and was the first film that the director made that was not an original creation of his own work.
The film centres on Jackie Brown (played by Pam Greer), an ageing flight attendant who when caught trafficking drugs on behalf of Samuel L. Jackson’s Ordell Robbie, agrees with the ATF to help them catch him. However her willingness to help, may be based on her own plans rather than theirs…
For this film Tarantino, who in Pulp Fiction had single handedly revived the career of John Travolta, achieved similar for both Grier (previous star of 70’s films such as Foxy Brown – which the film is somewhat of an homage to) and also brought Robert Forster into film for a key role of bail bondsman Max Cherry.
It’s another ensemble cast in the film, which includes Robert De Niro as a recently released criminal, Bridget Fonda as Mel – a female connection of Robbie, and Michael Keaton as Agent Ray Nicolette. Interestingly Keaton makes an uncredited appearance in the George Clooney film Out of Sight playing Nicolette which was being made at the same time.
This is a very different film to the previous work (and largely subsequent work) of Tarantino. Not just because it was him directing a story based on someone else’s work, but based on the character driven plot line, with far less violence than has become somewhat of a symbol of his work.
Some of the best moments in the film see more gentle scene of dialogue than traditional in his work, one standing out in the memory as both Grier and Forster discuss their age and situations in life.
Overall the film was not received as well as his previous work and this somewhat went Tarantino back to work of his own writing and more traditional style of film making. The shame here is that the film is probably his best work as a director and the criticism seemed to almost forever assign him to the style of films that he has made ever since. Thats not to criticise his body of work since, but only to reflect on their combined similarities, compared to this standout work.
Grier took every chance she got in this film, as did Forster whose performance brings a compassionate heart to the story, and who would be nominated for a Supporting Actor oscar as a result. Samuel L Jackson continues his ability to deliver Tarantino’s dialogue with a style and skill that no-one else has ever quite matched.
In terms of the traditional Tarantino soundtrack, this film has by far the best collection of music that the director has chosen to tell his tale and again shows his ability to surface previously well known songs.
It’s a fantastic story with some compelling performances. The reputation of the film has improved year by year and whilst it may not have the impact of Pulp Fiction, it may be Tarantino’s most accomplished work as a director.