Reviewed by: Brian Nigro
Inevitably, there are many concerned Christians who think Quentin Tarantino’s movies somehow “glamorize” drugs and violence, even though the bad guys always lose and justice (spiritual and secular) always prevails. The irony is, most “Pulp Fiction” fans will find “Jackie Brown” rather underwhelming, if not disappointing—and, still, there’s a substantial morality play here.
“Jackie Brown” is based on Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch, with one minor change. Tarantino tailored the script specifically for Pam Grier, the star of 1970’s “blaxploitation” cinema. As the title character, an airline stewardess caught between the ATF’s mousetrap and a gun dealer’s threats, Pam Grier upholds her status as a strong black woman who can hold her own against cops and gangsters. Tarantino is overly enthusiastic with Grier’s presence—this almost feels a Valentine’s Day card to her, the way the camera sticks to her like glue in some scenes. It’s her movie.
The plot of “Jackie Brown” boils down to just three characters: Ordell Robbie (Samuel J. Jackson), a foul-mouthed gun dealer; Jackie Brown (Grier); and, Max Cherry (Robert Forster), the bail bondsman. After being caught with Robbie’s cash, arrested, then bailed from prison, she wants to help the ATF get Robbie—but only after she skims off her share of the money.
What makes this movie so entertaining, aside from the little character quirks (for instance, when Jackie asks Max what he thinks of getting older)? Perspective, that’s what. The story starts linear, point A to point B to point C. Then, it goes back to different characters' points of view and covers the same event again and again. Some viewers find this technique distracting; others will find it a welcome relief from Hollywood formula.
The casting is the strength and the weakness of “Jackie Brown.” Notably absent are Tarantino regulars Harvey Keitel (which cuts the profanity factor in half), Tim Roth, and Steve Buscemi. In their places, so to speak, are Bridget Fonda, Robert De Niro, and Michael Keaton—all mainstream performers who really don’t belong in this movie, no matter how hard they try. Thankfully, their characters don’t figure into the story.
“Jackie Brown” is rated R for extensive profanity (at least 200 including two dozen N-words and other racial slurs), violence, minor sexual content, and one scene of drug use. To put the content in perspective, there is no nudity—unlike the PG-13 “Titanic.” Yet, unlike “Boogie Nights” which out-Tarantino’d Tarantino, there’s no envelope-pushing, either. This is a solid “R” rating deliberately aimed at adults—and away from kids or teens.