Reassessing Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown.
By Mark Rivera.
Following the tsunami of publicity and awards Quentin Tarantino earned from his breakthrough classic Pulp Fiction, Tarantino had suffered from two difficult circumstances. One was overexposure and the other was expectation. People could not stop talking about Tarantino and Pulp Fiction. Many independent filmmaker's began to make homages to Pulp Fiction as well as his first feature Reservoir Dogs regardless of the genre. Hollywood hired Tarantino as a script doctor and quickly green lighted anything he had wrote prior to becoming famous. Hollywood also produced more Pulp Fiction clones than can be counted and on prime time soap operas like Beverly Hills 90210, the characters often dropped his name implying the characters were friendly with him just so they can appear cool.
Thus regardless of how talented someone is, over exposure is over exposure and with that came the expectation that his next film, an adaptation of Rum Punch entitled Jackie Brown starring Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert DeNiro, Robert Forester, Michael Keaton and Bridget Fonda, was going to be another Pulp Fiction. It was not. In fact despite the good reviews, the audience that fell in love with the filmmaker was so blindsided by the deliberately slow pace of the story that they tuned out. Hence it was not appreciated as much as it should have been because it did not meet the expectations of the viewing audience who in some cases found it to be boring.
In the 15 or so years since Jackie Brown, Tarantino has never adopted another book into a feature film and instead has remained very successful and admired with a string of original and epic films ranging from Kill Bill to Inglorious Basterds and most recently at the time of my writing this, Django Unchained. Jackie Brown in tone and style is a departure from Tarantino's movies and it can be appreciated as arguably his most adult and generally compelling crime dramas he has produced as well as one of his most complex too.
There are no blood soaked massacre like shoot outs or over the top fight sequences, the characters for the most part are middle aged career criminals and law enforcement who Jackie Brown must outsmart and manipulate in order to stay alive, out of jail, and take a chance at a new life.
While the film cleverly seduces the audience to her side, it has become apparent to me that the character of Jackie Brown arguably becomes less sympathetic as the film goes on. One can understand her reasons and she is truly in a terrible situation, but in the process as she pretty much schemes her way into our hearts so much so that all we care about is seeing how she will succeed while we forget about Jackson's character's motives and point of view.
Jackson's character will not hesitate to kill anyone who will interfere in his achieving his dream, which is to get out when he has cleared a million dollars and live a happy life. He may be a gun dealer, but he has earned a half a million dollars already and like it or not, he is good at what he does. Jackson's charm shows us how he can be just as seductive as Jackie Brown and indeed more than anyone else in the film, he is Jackie Brown's doppleganger.
However despite the implications of putting up underage women lost in Hollywood so he can mess around with them, he never whores them out. He is not a pimp or a drug dealer. The women in his life basically live a lot better because of him than they would homeless or being hustled by a real pimp.
So as the film progresses it becomes a shell game and a caper flick mixed in one with Jackie Brown manipulating everyone around her while staying one step ahead of Jackson's character. It is about three quarters of the film then that a strange thing happens. Although he is a criminal and a murderer, one can really begin to sense in Jackson's performance a certain amount of sadness. He downright appears broken hearted and behind his eyes he almost looks like a man about to cry. He is just as desperate as Jackie Brown is.
He and Jackie Brown are on even footing by their final confrontation and ultimately she sets him up and robs him of his life, his dreams and his money with everyone doing the dirty work for her. Her visit at the end where she tries to encourage Robert Forester to take a larger share of the half a million she manages to steal from Jackson is sort of like the kind of action where one person tries to do something nice for another not for any genuine and or altruistic reason, but rather to free themselves of some guilt so they can justify their actions however morally questionable.
In the end Jackie Brown may be victorious, but ultimately she is just as horrible as Jackson's character and arguably more dangerous because you don't see it coming from her while Jackson's character is crystal clear a mile away.
Jackie Brown is a film about old players on both sides of the law. Everyone is tired and world weary and no one is particularly likable except perhaps Robert Forester's character because he is in the end, the most honest and innocent in the story. As for Jackie Brown, she is just as ruthless as Jackson's character and perhaps the moral of the film is that morality truly depends upon the point of view you choose to believe is true and not a matter of right or wrong or good and evil. Don't take my word for it. Jackie Brown is on Netflix this month. Stream it for yourself and see how you feel afterwards.
(C) Copyright 2013 By Mark Rivera
All Rights Reserved.