Jackie Brown [Blu-Ray]
Director : Quentin Tarantino
Screenplay : Quentin Tarantino (based on the novel Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1997
Stars : Pam Grier (Jackie Brown), Samuel L. Jackson (Ordell Robbie), Robert Forster (Max Cherry), Bridget Fonda (Melanie), Michael Keaton (Ray Nicolet), Robert De Niro (Louis Gara), Michael Bowen (Mark Dargus), Chris Tucker (Beaumont Livingston)
The beauty and brilliance of Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown is that it isn’t Pulp Fiction Redux. While so many other young filmmakers were already busy trying to ape the style, attitude, and bravura of Tarantino’s sophomore film, he was quietly taking a different route and in the process demonstrating to his critics and detractors that he wasn’t a one-trick pony and that his filmmaking prowess has as much depth as surface vitality. While many of the same elements from Pulp Fiction are undeniably present--talkative professional criminals, raucous vulgar dialogue, sudden violence, a soundtrack bursting with funky ’70s R&B tunes, and multiple plot twists--everything is simply toned down, more measured, more indelibly thoughtful.
The plot is taken from Elmore Leonard’s 1992 novel Rum Punch, the first (and so far last) time Tarantino has adapted someone else’s work. The story is centered around the title character, played with world-weary resolve by Pam Grier, the former blaxploitation queen whose presence and attitude defined movies like Coffy (1973) and Foxy Brown (1974). As he did in casting John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, who by the early 1990s was a pale shadow of his former superstar self, Tarantino plucked Grier from the realms of near cinematic obscurity and put her into a role that was both tailor-made to her screen persona and plumbs new depths of emotion and presence that only time and experience can bestow. Tarantino’s affection for Grier is evident in his many close-ups, which reveal her to be an actress of great dexterity and subtlety as she suggests layers of emotion and thought in the slightest flick of her eyes or curl of her mouth.
Grier plays a 44-year-old flight attendant on a cut-rate airline running back and forth between LAX and Mexico. To supplement her paltry earnings, she runs money in and out of the country for Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson), a cocky, banally cruel gunrunner who thinks he is much bigger and smarter than he actually is. Unlike Jules, the philosophical hitman Jackson played in Pulp Fiction, Ordell, with his braided goatee, flowing ponytail, and shifty eyes, is a thoroughly dislikable character from the start, and there is no chance for spiritual redemption at the end for him. He is corrupted through and through.
When Jackie gets caught by an L.A. cop (Mark Dargus) and ATF agent (Michael Keaton), she knows it is time to sink or swim. To save herself from going to jail and ending the meager place in life she has carved out, she sets up a three-way con game among herself, Ordell, and the cops, where everyone thinks he is on top, but the whole time it is Jackie who is holding all the cards. With the help of a friendly bail bondsman named Max Cherry (Robert Forster, another familiar face in need of a good role), she sets up a deal where she will trick both the cops and Ordell and make off with half a million dollars--if everything goes by the plan, of course.
The story also includes a number of secondary characters, including Louis Gara (Robert De Niro), a largely silent, dim-witted ex-con working with Ordell, and Melanie (Bridget Fonda), Ordell’s blond, pothead surfer girlfriend whose only aspirations are getting high and watching TV. All of these characters are immediately recognizable as comfortable residents of the Tarantino universe even though that universe is significantly downplayed in favor of a grittier, more realistic depiction of the Bay Area, which Tarantino conspicuously highlights with title cards that serve little narrative purpose. As he did in his previous films, Tarantino indulges in some self-consciously cinematic visual flourishes like extreme close-ups and the use of split-screen, but the film’s overall style is surprisingly restrained and classical, its human resonance emphasized by the more horizontal screen space, making this the first time Tarantino did not shoot in a ’Scope aspect ratio.
However, if anything, Jackie Brown shows a warmer, more human edge to Tarantino, who so many critics had written off as a shallow showman who couldn’t think or speak in anything other than hyperbolic movie terms. Tarantino’s newfound depth is especially evident in the characters of Jackie and Max. Both are older, experienced people who have obviously been through much in their lives. The weariness shows on both of their faces, but when Tarantino puts them together, something happens. Some thought there could never be room for plausible romance in a Tarantino film, but here it is. Granted, it is subtle and understated, which are terms rarely associated with Tarantino’s brand of cinematic aplomb. Yet, as both writer and director he demonstrates grace and affection in the scenes with Grier and Forster and builds their relationship along intelligent, believable lines.
Unfortunately, this was bad news for Pulp fans who are came to the film expecting a second helping of that highly charged material. Jackie Brown is slowly paced, emotionally reflective, and features very little violence (although when it does happen, it is quick and shocking, although not graphic). The plot can be slightly confusing on first viewing, but that may be because Tarantino is primarily interested in his characters, many of whom keep their intentions and motives close to the vest (he also purposefully denies us sequences in which they explain what they’re going to do). There is a great deal of dialogue, but it has substance above clever explanations of the actual meaning of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” or what the French call a Quarter-Pounder. Like the great auteurs, Tarantino maintains just enough of his signature style to remind us that we are watching a Tarantino film, but he doesn’t fear breaking off and trying something new, thus ensuring that we will always look forward to his next film because we won’t know exactly what to expect.
|Jackie Brown Blu-Ray|
|Audio||English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround|
|Distributor||Miramax / Lionsgate|
|Release Date||October 4, 2011|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Quentin Tarantino personally supervised the new high-definition 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer of Jackie Brown, and it looks wonderful. Just as the film differs tonally from Pulp Fiction, it also looks different, possibly due to the involvement of a new cinematographer. Jackie Brown has a much more natural look to it, which gives it the general appearance of being a product of the 1970s, rather than the 1990s. The image, nicely framed in its theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio, is strong throughout, with good detail (note the clarity of the age lines in the actors’ faces) and rich colors that look completely natural. Quite a bit of the film takes place in darkened interiors, and the transfer handles black levels and shadow detail nicely. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1-channels surround soundtrack is likewise remastered and sounds excellent. The R&B-heavy soundtrack features nice separation among the channels that never feels forced, and dialogue is crisp and clear.|
|All of the supplements from the 2002 DVD are included here, along with a new, 45-minute roundtable discussion about the film by five well-known film critics: New York Times critic Elvis Mitchell, Salon critic Stephanie Zacharek, Video Watchdog editor Tim Lucas, Los Angeles critic Andy Klein, and Variety critic Scott Foundras. All five critics have deep admiration for the film, and they give their own takes on the film’s many pleasures, whether it be the loving close-ups of Pam Grier, the use of near-forgotten ’70s music, or the film’s take on race.|
Copyright ©2011 James Kendrick
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All images copyright © Miramax / Lionsgate