I think Jackie Brown is Quentin Tarantino’s best film. There, I said it. I’ve often taken a lot of flack for this opinion, but that doesn’t mean it will change. Love him or hate him, Tarantino is probably one of the more interesting filmmakers from the 90’s independent film movement to still be working. But what is it about Jackie Brown that keeps me coming back for multiple viewings? Today we look at the film in Quentin Tarantino’s career that tends to get unjustly ignored by many.
While Quentin has been known for resurrecting the careers of actors who have been stagnating for quite some time this is probably the best example of this magic touch. Sure, John Travolta was in a bit of a slump before Pulp Fiction, but he could have dug his way out sooner or later. Pam Grier and Robert Forester on the other hand more than likely wouldn’t have had such luck. Both of them were older and had been in a bigger slump for a much longer period. But this story needed talent of their caliber to work. We also have Samuel L. Jackson giving one of his most charismatic yet sinister performances as Ordell. It’s impressive to have an antagonist that you kind of like through most of the story in spite of his hubris and detestable deeds. But let’s not forget about Robert De Niro’s Louis. The man is fresh out of prison in his fifties and has no idea what’s next. It’s entertaining seeing him kind of lost in his new life and trying to readjust to the outside world. Throw into the mix Michael Keaton as a likable ATF agent trying to squeeze Jackie into giving up her employer and you’ve got a ton of talent ready to tell an interesting story. Speaking of which…
As of now this is the only film Quentin has made that has been an adaptation of someone else’s work. Based off the book Rum Punch by famed crime writer Elmore Leonard this story had a great core that Quentin built upon. There’s always something interesting about a narrative that focuses on older characters. The standard film wants to use up and comers or A-list celebrities as they put butts in seats, but how could someone on an upswing or at the high point of their career convey the necessary desperation of these characters? Jackie, Max, and Louis are all in their fifties and know that more of their lives has passed them by than what’s on the horizon. Jackie has a criminal record forcing her to work as a flight attendant on a third rate airline with no chance of promotion or retirement in sight. Max has built a solid business as a bail bondsman, but all he truly has is his business. And Louis is an ex-con who’s only option to eke out a living is to return to crime. It’s so rare in movies to see people at this point in their lives with little to show for it. Even rarer is having these characters be the main focus of the story rather than being relegated to supporting roles.
From the opening shot of this film you know we’re in for something different than what Quentin previously gave us in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. Jackie is on a moving sidewalk as Bobby Womack’s upbeat yet somber tune “Across 110th Street” plays in the background. This scene sets up the story perfectly. We’re seeing Jackie moving but getting nowhere and the song tells us everything we need to know about her situation. As stated in the song, “Been down so long, getting up didn’t cross my mind” is where Jackie is in her life. She’s stuck in a mediocre situation and hasn’t even contemplated the idea of something better. From there we get all the usual hallmarks of Quentin’s repertoire. From a catchy soundtrack of vintage tunes out of his record collection to the snappy dialogue that populates his character’s vocabulary it’s all here. The only thing is that it doesn’t feel as gimmicky as it had in his previous works.
It’s almost as though each film is a different part of life. Reservoir Dogs is the teenager who is very unrefined and doesn’t care what anyone thinks. Pulp Fiction is the early adult years where you’re stripping away that attitude and are beginning to see where your life is going. Jackie Brown is the adult who never got to do what they wanted and is now looking to get out of the mid-life crisis that has been created by/for them. I guess this is where all my points have been leading. I love this film because it feels more mature than anything else Quentin has made. It’s his most grounded in reality story and that is what makes it great.
Of course this is just my opinion. As usual what are your thoughts? What is your favorite Quentin Tarantino film? Do you like his earlier work or do you prefer his more recent creations? What do you think he’ll make next? As always, thanks for reading.