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Jackie Brown – she knows where she’s goin’ and she knows what she’s gotta do. Quentin Tarantino conveyed this message clearly in the opening scene where Jackie Brown (Pam Grier), a beautiful stewardess over 40 dealing with hard times, is seen walking confidently through an airport with a gaze fixed on her final destination.

Acting as a courier for arms dealer Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson), Jackie Brown soon raises her bargaining power in a tense plot between the FBI and Ordell when she opts to act as an insider for the FBI as she continues to strike deals with Ordell over the transportation of his money from Mexico to Los Angeles. Chaos ensues and the stakes escalate as the number of players in the game rises and Jackie Brown strategizes in making hasty plans to smuggle Ordell’s half million dollars out of Mexico. The film builds up to a final showdown – a money exchange at the Del Amo Mall in California – where Jackie Brown strikes a secret deal with her bail bondsman to swindle Ordell out of his money while craftily deceiving the FBI.

Based on a novel entitled “Rum Punch” by Elmore Leonard, this film has all the clear signs of a quintessential Tarantino film: the important role of suitcases, the use of car trunks in filming, tension, drugs, drugs, drugs and ruthless shooting1. The film keeps the audience alert with the use of twists and turns, flashbacks and, in the final showdown, the creative use of cameras to reflect the different perspectives of the contending and allied parties.

There is also the use of parallels; the opening scene is similar to the beginning of the showdown scene, where Jackie Brown is seen walking against a blue background, leaving the audience wondering if the showdown will lead to a similar fate.

Much of the charm of this feature resides in its gritty rawness – there is no trace of schooled espionage here, the criminal plans are hatched in dimly-lit bars, often with broken lighting, by people who could easily be mistaken for the folks next door. A lot of the charm rests with the soundtrack, mostly from the 1970s2, lending an old air to the plot while sharpening the flavor of each of the scenes.

Tarantino is skilled at portraying key traits of the characters in a subtle but effective manner by focusing the attention of the audience on simple actions, such as Jackie Brown’s walking style in the opening scene to portray her strength, or Melanie Ralston’s (Bridget Fonda) action of flipping her feet on a coffee table to symbolize her rebelliousness. The film is intriguing in its depiction of ambivalent emotions in relationships. Often, the scenes show relationships oscillating between agreement and outright hostility: Ordell and Jackie, Ordell and Melanie, Jackie and Ray (Michael Keaton), and the list goes on. Despite their often conflicting interests, the characters succeeded in collectively projecting a formidable air of weariness and cynicism with an undercurrent of seething aggression. However, in the ‘nothing-for-nothing, dog-eat-dog’ context of Tarantino’s film, it was comforting to witness a few glimmers of humanity such as when Jackie Brown slipped Melanie some cash from Ordell’s loot.

A film packed with gripping action, Jackie Brown is endearing as much as it is entertaining.

1Director style based on information found at www.imdb.com
2Based on information in “Jackie Brown” (1997) ; DVD

October 12, 2004
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