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With: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Bridget Fonda, Robert DeNiro, Michael Keaton, Robert Forster, Chris Tucker, Sid Haig
Written by: Quentin Tarantino, based on a novel by Elmore Leonard
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
MPAA Rating: R for strong language, some violence, drug use and sexuality
Running Time: 154
Date: 25/12/1997

Jackie Brown (1997)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Blow Your Mind

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jackie Brown is Tarantino's first screenplay adapted from a novel, Elmore Leonard's Rum Punch, which lays out a pretty standard swindle story. Jackie Brown (Pam Grier, in an Oscar-worthy performance) concocts an elaborate plan to steal a million bucks from both the bad guys and the cops. She's an airline stewardess smuggling cash for Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson) and his dim partner Louis (Robert De Niro). Melanie (Bridget Fonda) is Ordell's simple surfer-chick girlfriend. Michael Keaton plays a cop who thinks he has Jackie on his side, and Robert Forster (excellent in a brilliant comeback role) plays Max Cherry, the bail bondsman who falls hard for Jackie (he plays "Didn't I Blow Your Mind This Time" by the Delphonics over and over to remind him of her).

Tarantino's style is suited to Leonard's -- he takes the novel and makes it into a Quentin Tarantino movie. As a director, he loves to keep his audience a little in the dark so that they'll work a little and meet him halfway. The most inspired sequence is a Rashomon-type three-way in which we see "the switch" three times in a row from three different points of view. Like Leonard, he has a gift for great-sounding dialogue, but he saturates Jackie Brown with it, and there's not enough plot to keep us interested. On the other hand, Tarantino's inexperience in adaptation shows. The movie is very long (2 hours and 40 minutes), and quite a lot of it is expositional and unnecessary. It's a thriller with a standard plot, and it needs to move a little faster. However, when Grier and Forester are on screen, the movie sparkles. These are unquestionably Tarantino's greatest characters, and the actors eat them up with verve. The movie also makes great use of Los Angeles. For once it looks like a real city and not just a sterilized movie set.

Note: In 1999, I chose Pulp Fiction as the movie of the decade. Two years later, I still regard it as a masterpiece and would still call it the movie of the '90s on a technical level, but I believe now that Jackie Brown is Tarantino's greatest and most accomplished film. (Similarly, I don't deny the greatness of Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, even though my favorite of his films is Chimes at Midnight.) I gave Jackie Brown a lukewarm review in 1997, but seeing it twice more I find that it's more of a slow burn in contrast to Pulp Fiction's sudden flare-up. It takes longer to sink in. Before, his characters spoke crackling dialogue and we loved listening to them. But here they have real soul. The lovely scenes between Grier and Forster especially sparkle and hum. Everyone makes mistakes, I guess, and so I've upped my rating from its original 2 1/2 out of 4 to a more deserving level. Miramax's DVD comes with a huge, wonderful gallery of trailers for most of Pam Grier and Robert Forster's films, deleted scenes, Siskel & Ebert's TV review, short documentaries, and much more.

In 2011, Lionsgate, which owns the Miramax back catalog, released Jackie Brown on Blu-Ray. Tarantino supervised the transfer, and it looks amazing. It includes all the same extras as the DVD.

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