Jackie Brown (1997)

Jackie Brown, Quentin Tarantino. I’m not a fan of QT but since his name is in the news again, I figured I should toss off…a fast recommendation to my favorite of his films. As far as I am aware (or care), Jackie Brown is the only adaptation that QT has made and the limitations of working within another person’s narrative (and the fact that the author of that narrative, Elmore Leonard, was also an Exec Producer on the picture) forced the director to abjure his usual cartoon violence in place of an intricate plot and nuanced characterization. He manages to coax outstanding performances from veteran actors many years his senior (it’s Samuel L. Jackson’s best work) and for once the characters in his film are believable and sympathetic, not merely dolls for the director to play with. The Southern California sets, costumes, and personalities are all rendered perfectly. The splatter-ketchup violence for which QT is so well known is here kept to a minimum; the gun play is often off-screen and far away. A complex heist is unwound in a smart, multi-perspective exposition that is more difficult and sophisticated to script and film than it appears on screen. Unfortunately, this film followed on the heels of the breakout success of Pulp Fiction (1994) and fans rejected it. They wanted more of the grindhouse matinee aesthetic that has now become QT’s signature style. Remaking the kind of schlock that we used to watch on Sunday afternoon VHF TV with lovingly attention to shallow detail, titanic budgets, big name stars, and a knowing wink, appeals to people who need to feel smart without actually knowing anything. It’s a shame that QT’s talent is wasted on such swill. Watch JB to see the potential he once had, and because it’s an intelligent, well-made crime flick.

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