Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #570
Number of Views: Three
Release Date: December 25, 1997
Sub-Genre: Crime Fiction
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $74,700,000
Running Time: 154 minutes
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Producer: Lawrence Bender
Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino
Based on Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard
Cinematography: Guillermo Navarro
Soundtrack available on Maverick Records
Editing: Sally Menke
Studio: A Band Apart
Distributor: Miramax Films
Stars: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster, Bridget Fonda, Michael Keaton, Robert De Niro, Michael Bowen, Chris Tucker, LisaGay Hamilton, Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister, Hattie Winston, Sid Haig, Aimee Graham
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 The Steelers Wheel “Stuck In The Middle With You”
 Randy Crawford “Street Life”
 Bill Withers Who Is He “(And What Is He to You)”
 Bobby Womack “Across 110th Street”
 The Delfonics “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)”
 Sigi Schwab & Manfred Hubler “The Lions and the Cucumber”
 Johnny Cash “Tennessee Stud”
 The Grass Roots “Midnight Confessions”
 Roy Ayers “Escape”
I don’t envy Quentin Tarantino. Actually that’s a blatant lie, I envy the shit out of Quentin Tarantino. However, in 1997, I didn’t envy him. You see, his sophomore film Pulp Fiction had arrived three years previous and done something of a number on the entire population of the planet. Regarded by most as one of the best motion pictures of all time, myself included, its blessing was proved something of a curse. How would he even start to contemplate following this behemoth up? He’d done it once already, after Reservoir Dogs became a huge cult favorite but this time he really had his work cut out for him as utter perfection is a hard thing to trump.
My case in point is The Coen Brothers’ No Country For Old Men. These guys had never made a bad film, so it wouldn’t have seemed a stretch to keep their momentum going but, when Burn After Reading materialized on the back of the film that finally landed them the Best Picture Oscar they so richly deserved, it’s fair to say that folk were underwhelmed. However, hindsight is a wonderful thing. Taken out of context and on its own merits, their next project was beyond masterful. Moreover, they achieved this in the way that great filmmakers invariably do. Instead of attempting to beat their own marker, they simply changed the pace a little and made a quaint little black comedy with no bells and whistles. Personally, I regarded it as one of their finest works the moment I caught it in my local multiplex. But it took a fair while for this opinion to cotton on.
Likewise, when Jackie Brown slinked onto the scene, bustling with ghetto chic but minus the excessive violence that Tarantino fans had been expecting, certain quarters were severely underwhelmed. Let me make this abundantly clear from the offset, I was not one of them. However, it was inevitable that this would happen. In this situation, you’re damned whether you do or don’t. Had he ramped up the madness and offered more of the same, then he would invariably have been criticized for being a one-trick pony, regardless of the end result. By showing restraint and not pandering to anybody, he was criticized for misplacing his edge. It’s perhaps the only time in history that I wouldn’t have wished to be in his shoes.
“Shut your raggedy-ass up, and sit the fuck down!”
What Tarantino achieved with Jackie Brown is no less than astonishing. It is the only time that he has worked from somebody else’s vision and his adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s 1992 novel Rum Punch couldn’t be further departed from the likes of Pulp Fiction in terms of scale. This time round, there is no bloated cast and, instead, barely a handful of main characters to take stock of. There are also no basement bound gimps or “pipe-hittin’ niggaz” to push the envelope with regards to adrenaline. Instead, intimacy is the key word here. Of course, he’s working from another man’s template, and the source fiction doesn’t allow for such a superabundance of incident. However, he practices admirable restraint and just keeps on doing what he’s doing. The result is a movie with just as much swagger but one that chooses its weapons wisely.
“I got this young nineteen year old country girl named Sheronda. I found her on a bus stop two days outta Georgia, barefoot, country as a chicken coop. I took her to my place in Compton, told her it was Hollywood.”
One thing you’re guaranteed from anything Tarantino touches (aside from the fact that it will invariably turn golden), is that he will sweet talk you round with the first few lines of dialogue. Actually, scrap that. He’ll have you in the palm of his hand by that opening frame. Anyhoots, his screenplays are stuffed to their gills with the words of the angels and Jackie Brown offers no exception to that rule. Considering the 154 minute running time and dearth of protagonists, that’s a lot of sugar to spill from precious few lips. By my estimations, it’s a good few dozen monologues. A monologue, as presented by Quentin, is like the moment just before you climax, spread across a couple of minutes. It’s positively tantric and such foreplay is magnanimous. However, words are little more than hollow whispers when delivered without the requisite authenticity and, it just so happens, that he has that base soundly covered too. How does Pam Grier, Robert Forster, Robert De Niro, Michael Keaton and Bridget Fonda sound? This reeks of a man who knows precisely how to milk a bullock.
“AK-47. The very best there is. When you absolutely, positively got to kill every motherfucker in the room, accept no substitutes.”
Then there’s the small question of Samuel L. Jackson. After being robbed of the Academy Award he deserved for his furious anger as Jules Winnfield, the lord is inevitably going to be pissed right? Wrong. This is no “peanut-headed nigga” we’re speaking of, Jackson is as suave as a velvet labia and just as enticing. He’s chill, Ordell Robbie is so chill that he’s practically ice. You see, all Ordell really hankers for is his money. Other than that, butter wouldn’t melt from his kangol. Laid so far back that it often appears as though he’s reciting from a sun lounger surrounded by honeys in tight little bikinis, and dancing dollar bills also in tight little bikinis. But before he can recline in the shine, his bitch had better have his money. That’s what it all boils down to – pay the man and we cool. Jackson could only work on weekends due to his commitments with Barry Levinson’s Sphere so it’s only right he’s gonna want to kick back after five days of space travel. But don’t let him put his foot in yo’ ass. Take a look in the trunk of his Oldsmobile and you’ll know what I’m saying.
“I put a cherry on top. Booh-yah!”
This brings me to the honey delivering his sweet green nectar. Jackie Brown is our hostess with the mostess, a beautiful, strong, and fiercely independent black woman if ever there was one. Working as a flight attendant for a small Mexican airline, her career prospects have taken a turn for the worse the past few years but she still retains that same dignity and poise that can make a grown man’s knee tremble with the vaguest glance and pre-ejaculate right next to his wife of thirty years the moment she points out the exits. There is only one woman on earth that could play Jackie’s role and, conveniently for Tarantino, there was only one woman on earth he intended it for – Grier. Having grown up accompanied by the likes of Eddie Romero’s Black Mama White Mama, and Jack Hill’s Coffy, The Big Bird Cage and Foxy Brown, it is only natural that he would want to sprinkle her brown sugar all over his picture and it’s just as sweet now as it was way back in the seventies.
Grier is simply majestic here, truly the queen of the jungle. While Ordell is busy flapping his lips, she’s keeping hers tight. You see, Jackie holds all the cards and, effectively, his balls in the palm of her hand and is going to need every last one of her God-given smarts to keep it that way as the heat is on her pretty little trunk and her next few actions will determine her entire future and those of a number of different implicated parties. One of these is bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster) and it is here, in these refreshingly tender moments, that she reveals her vulnerability and at absolutely no other point, unless it’s for hoodwinking purposes of course. Smart, sassy, sexy, shy, strong, and salacious in turn, Grier provides each facet with the verve and composure that makes her such an incalculable treasure.
Jackie: “Aw, the milk went bad while I was in jail.”
Max: “Black’s fine.”
So about Max then. Like Grier, it had been years since Forster had received the kind of service he deserves and, at the time of shooting Jackie Brown, didn’t even have an agent. He sure as shit needed one afterwards as, one Supporting Actor Oscar nod later, he was hot topic once again. His performance is so gently observed, each facial muscle so limber and animate and, his eyes, so twinkling with infatuation that it’s like observing as an adolescent boy falls for teacher for the first time. It’s fair to say that Jackie does a number on him and, watching on as he silently mouths the words to the Delfonics’ Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time) whilst driving on auto pilot due to the effect that this strong black woman has had on him, makes us love him to the bones.
“You’ve no idea what happened to the 50.000 dollars. You’re clueless about the money, right? You’ve no idea about the 50 grants. “
Of course, not everyone is such a pleasure to deal with as Max, and ATF agent Ray Nicolette (Keaton) is one such necessary evil. Having caught Jackie in the act of transporting green cargo from Mexico with his partner against crime LAPD detective Mark Dargus (Michael Bowen), Ray has the ability to make life rather uncomfortable for her but is prepared to offer an out should she play his game by his rules. Keaton too couldn’t have been better cast as he has that whole “just dipped my sherbet” glaze in his eyes and twitchy confidence that a man in his position requires to get the job done.
“Fuck you and your chill pill!”
Meanwhile, Ordell doesn’t run alone and former penitentiary cellmate Louis Gara (De Niro) provides the perfect foil to his communicative vocal posturing. Quietly spoken, observant and respectful, he also has a foul temper although you wouldn’t know it as it takes some effort to make him show it. Ferociously loyal and not quite as adept as Ordell at suffering fools gladly, should his bristles become ruffled then he’s unlikely to offer chicken and waffles as a lure to fill your head and chest with lead. This encourages De Niro to access a place that few directors have clearance for and he’s every bit as brilliant in second string capacity as he is holding his firearm up to the mirror.
“Hey, kiss my ass, fuck wad!”
His sole irritant is surfer/stoner/sloth Melanie Ralston (Fonda). Firstly nice toes. Really, they deserve their own credit. No wonder Louis can’t help but put up with her incessant petulance. She’s lucky Ordell hasn’t bust a cap in her petite ivory ass but he’s content in the knowledge that she’s just Melanie. Lounging about in her skimpies, chewing bubblegum, and loading the bong before passing – these are her key strengths and she has each down to pat. All this “getting to know you” time with Louis and naturally that estrogen is going to run over eventually but, then, so is her mouth and she isn’t the best at thinking things through before parting her cherry reds.
Jackie Brown provides ample moves from each of our pawns to place our asses soundly in check and each exchange crackles with enthusiasm and jazz. Ordell speaks all kinds of jazz and he’s our conductor for the most part but Jackie is where it’s really at and she achieves the same end result without grinding her grill. It burns deliberately slowly, smolders wherever necessary, and flickers consistently. Guillermo Navarro’s cinematography is simple in the very best way as he knows his brief and, moreover, knows what kind of picture his director is making and precisely how to support that vision. Meanwhile, the soundtrack is like white liquid gold and hits each of its cues exquisitely.
The narrative is always moving forward and, even when he decides to replay time zones from varied perspectives, we’re facing the right way and don’t know whether the next step will deliver us from evil or smack bang into it. Nice little touch with Sid Haig by the way Quentin, placing him before Grier or, her before him as it were, is a masterstroke and his short cameo shows that Tarantino has thought of every last conceivable trick each of his long sleeves can produce.
Jackie Brown is truly something special and, whilst not quite as instant a hit as Pulp Fiction to those looking to form a comparison, is every bit as accomplished a piece of work and, like the strong black woman of the title, stands on its own two feet and need not answer to anyone other than God himself. The way it closes out has been criticized and Tarantino himself admits to suffering a little from itchy trigger finger at this point, but it fits and the wave of emotion and devotion that washes over me every time the end credits roll, attests to him getting it bang on the money. Then, hours later, I find myself thinking about Jackie. I know that Max is doing the same with a glazed look of admiration and Ray is likely tugging his truncheon with one hand pressed against the shower glass. As for me, I just want to share a black coffee with her, skip the milk as that has seen better days, and bask in the rays of the foxy Miss Brown.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10
Grue Factor: 1/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Only a handful of shots are fired, precious little blood spilled, but when it trickles, there’s good reason for this and every last shard of shrapnel stings like a motherfucker. There is little pelt on display per se, but the sight of Fonda’s perfectly proportioned perfumed pink pretties playfully parading is truly a pre-eminent prize to praise. Watching Louis smash her paddock with his pugil, whilst not exactly thrust romantically, offers all the encouragement needed to spot seconds.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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