Monday, December 4, 2017

Jackie Brown

“AK-47, the very best there is. When you absolutely, positively got to kill every mother fucker in the room, except no substitutes.”

Jackie Brown was the third film Tarantino directed, serving as an interesting, albeit less memorable, conclusion to his 1990s quasi-trilogy that included Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. Unlike his other movies, this is an adapted work from the novel Rum Punch by Elmer Leonard, and like his films before and after, he assembled a terrific cast, one of the finest of the 90s: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster, Bridget Fonda, Michael Keaton, and Robert De Niro, an ensemble weaker directors at worst would not think of and at best would would mishandle.

The McGuffin of the film is half a million dollars being smuggled into the country from Mexico by a flight attendant named Jackie Brown for an arms dealer played by Jackson. Jackie gets caught at the airport by an ATF officer named Ray Nicollete (played by Michael Keaton), who teams with a local cop played by Michael Bowen. Nicolette wants to take down Ordell, and he plans to use Jackie to achieve those aims. For his part, Ordell is can be cautious to the point where he believes Jackie needs to be warned, but Jackie puts up a fight. She plans on playing both Ray and Ordell, with an eye on the money herself.

Ordell sort of leads an unlikely trio – he's joined by his bank robbing accomplice Lois (De Niro) and Ordell's beach bunny girlfriend (Fonda), who fancies Lois. (The characters Ordell and Lois also appear in the 2014 Leonard adaptation Life of Crime. Miramax agreed to waive the fee for allowing Keaton to reprise his role in a cameo in Sony's adaptation of Leonard's Out of Sight in 1998.)

While it may be the least appreciated Tarantino-directed film, it is not devoid of problems, chief among them an aspect that also appeared in The Hateful Eight and to a lesser degree Reservoir Dogs: violence against women that, I think, is meant to be humerous. Mix in a lot of N-word dropping, and it of course constitutes a normally controversial film directed by Tarantino. But love him or hate him, the evidence suggests he's an actor's director. Many of these stars, particularly Grier, Fonda, and Forster, delivered some of their very best work. Forster in particular delivers one of the most natural performances captured on film. Fonda hits ever note perfectly, and Grier was simply robbed of an Oscar nomination.

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