Friday, 17 August 2012

Film Review | Jackie Brown (1997)

Jackie Brown is arguably Tarantino's least celebrated film. It was never going to have an easy time, following on from the overwhelming mainstream and critical success of Pulp Fiction which in turn had generated greater attention in the director's first film, Reservoir Dogs. Tarantino had set himself up to incredibly high - maybe even impossibly high - expectations, so no matter how he attempted to meet them there was inevitably going to be at least some of his audience who would be underwhelmed by his third film.

Jackie Brown tells the story of the title character (Pam Grier), an air hostess who helps weapons dealer and gangster Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson) smuggle money in and out of the USA. After ATF agent Ray Nicolette (Michael Keaton) catches Jackie in the act, she becomes further embroiled in Ordell's business and a sting operation for Nicolette to arrest the gangster, whilst at the same time striking up a relationship with bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster).

In all honesty, I cannot understand the negative criticism levelled at Jackie Brown. It's almost certainly Tarantino's most "un-Tarantino-esque" film, not containing as many of the director's hallmarks (at least not as overtly). The narrative is by and large linear, and the dialogue is less flagrantly audacious than that heard throughout Tarantino's earlier works. It may be the absence of these features that lead fans of the director to be overly critical of the film; you don't have to scratch the surface too deep to see that Tarantino has created cinematic gold once again.

That Jackie Brown isn't as endlessly quotable as either of the writer and director's previous films doesn't mean that this isn't another stellar script from Tarantino. The intricate story builds perfectly throughout the two-and-a-half hour running time towards a gripping finale and a tense and emotional epilogue. The script is imbued with a subtle pizazz that often rings truer than the poetic style heard in Tarantino's previous films. This is potentially the director's most mature and balanced work.

Tarantino again garners a wealth of top-notch performances from his ensemble cast. Once again, it's hard to pick out one actor above the rest. Grier brings confidence and authenticity to the title role, with Forster's turn opposite her imbued brilliantly with introversion and subtlety. The attraction that builds between Jackie and Max is incredibly well-handled; theirs is a genuine and covert affection that only rises to the surface once or twice throughout, and is the most real romantic relationship seen in any of Tarantino's films. Robert De Niro is reliably excellent as Ordell's criminal associate Louis Gara, again bringing an understated feel to the role. In contrast to Forster's Max, De Niro constantly lets you know that there is fire burning beneath Louis' sometimes bumbling character making his performance captivating yet at times superbly uncomfortable.

Jackson is perfect throughout, giving his best performance of any of his films. Jules Winnfield may be Jackson's most iconic and quotable role, but it is through Ordell Robbie that Jackson truly shows his undeniable brilliance as an actor. Watching Ordell calmly and precisely pull on his leather gloves before preparing to do away with whomever he has deemed necessary to dispatch sends chills down your spine, which is testament to both Jackson's acting and Tarantino's direction. Ordell is  simultaneously calculating and cold-hearted, charismatic and despicable, but always feels completely authentic.

Simply put, Jackie Brown is a film of quality and maturity through and through. If Reservoir Dogs is a shot of tequila and Pulp Fiction a strong, carefully mixed cocktail, then Jackie Brown is a smooth sipping whiskey over ice to be enjoyed slowly. It's Tarantino at his most restrained, but also his most refined. An exercise in subtlety and expertly crafted cinema. The film stands incredibly well on its own, but it also rounds off Tarantino's opening trilogy of works superbly; together with his first two films, Jackie Brown eloquently argues for Tarantino to be considered as one of the greatest cinematic writers and directors of all time.


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