Thursday, August 27, 2009

Jackie Brown-before Tarantino was TARANTINO

After recently checking out his newest, intermittently brilliant but ultimately just "good", movie Inglourious Basterd's, I decided to revisit the Quentin Tarantino movie I hadn't seen in the longest time and had been meaning to re-watch. Jackie Brown was Tarantino's third time in the director's chair, and he would have seemed to become a more mature and in control filmmaker. It has an artistic consistency and ease of tone that even Pulp Fiction doesn't have. Although I think much of that tone is due to Tarantino's long time debt to Elmore Leonard, the author whose book Rum Punch this movie is based on. Tarantino understands Leonard's work, and captures perfectly his feeling and attitude and atmosphere and most particularly his characters. The movie is also blessed by having what is probably Tarantino's best cast. Each and every actor is wonderful in their part, and perfectly suited to them. But honestly what I think the movie benefits most from is Tarantino's ability to not get in the way of the story by having to show off what a great director he is. Sadly, this was the last time he did this, as the Kill Bill movies, Death Proof, and Basterd's are all awash in a director wanting you to know he's directing a movie.

That's not to say that there are no instances of Tarantino showing off his directorial abilities here. That's also not to say that Tarantino showing off his directorial abilities is a bad thing, especially since I think he's a better director than he is a writer (where he normally gets the most credit). It's just that the directorial flairs in Jackie Brown all feel organic, feeling more like they belong than like they were forced in. The trunk shot, the extreme feet close-up, the name checking of movies and music, the overwritten dialog, even the texts overlays informing us of times and places, everything fits, is more subtle, and flows naturally. Tarantino just generally seems less impressed (though not un-impressed) with himself in Jackie Brown.

But back to that cast. Pam Grier obviously had a longtime fan in QT. He'd grown up watching and loving the blaxploitation movies she made her name on. What she hadn't ever had though was a part (or a movie) as good as Jackie Brown. And boy does she take advantage, and look great doing it. She actually comes off as a real person, and not just a Tarantino character. She imbues Jackie with an intelligence, resolve, and humor so that we can't help but be on her side. Same goes for Robert Forster as Max. They seem like actual people, and we care about them like we never care for any other characters in any other Tarantino movie. More like a character is Samuel L. Jackson's terrific performance as Ordell, proving again that he's the only actor that can make Tarantino's dialog work for him every single time. I also want to point out how terrific I think Bridget Fonda is as the maybe not so airheaded Melanie, and that this was the last great performance from Robert De Niro. He's hysterical, sad, and occasionally kinda frightening.

So after my re-watch, I would say that Jackie Brown is firmly Tarantino's second best movie. I think it's more consistent than Pulp Fiction, but I don't think the highs are quite as high. People should see it (or revisit it) because the actors are outstanding, and it reminds us of what kind of brilliance Tarantino can give us when he's truly on top of his game. And although his movies are often labled as "too violent" or "too profane", and Jackie Brown certainly does have violence and profanity in it, it's more tastefully done and palatable to most people than in any of his other work. It's kind of the Tarantino movie for people who don't like Tarantino movies.


AlexanderKhan said...

I need to go back and see this again too. I have the dvd but haven't watched it in years. Out of all his movies it is the least "Tarantino" of the bunch, and it does feel more mature and even, but ultimately I just don't remember it being very interesting.

Groggy Dundee said...

This is a nice review. I don't agree with all your points but this is a solid, well-structured movie. If it weren't for Fonda and De Niro, whom I honestly find annoying, I might like this movie as much as Pulp Fiction.