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Jackie Brown (1997)
Rated R

Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Pam Grier, and Robert DeNiro

Rating:
****
out of
*****

Ever since he wowed the world with Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantino's kept a rather low profile. Well, as a director anyway. Aside from some attempts at acting (From Dusk 'til Dawn, Destiny Turns on the Radio) and a rumored turn at the helm of The X-Files that never turned out, we haven't seen anything substantial from him since 1994. Some Tarantino fans may not consider Jackie Brown a true Tarantino film either since it is based on an Elmore Leonard novel (Rum Punch). Regardless of how you'd categorize it, Jackie Brown is a fine example of Tarantino's trademark directorial skills. Whether he wrote it or not, his visual style is instantly recognizable.

The story revolves around a weapons dealer named Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson), who has a penchant for killing off anyone who might jeopardize his retirement plans. It seems that Ordell's stashed $500,000 in Mexico and plans to have one last score before retiring from the illegal arms racket for good. The problem is that the connection he uses to get that money from Mexico, Jackie Brown (Pam Grier), a flight attendant, is under investigation by two ATF agents (Michael Keaton and Michael Bowen). They've been tipped off by Beaumont (Chris Tucker), whom Ordell promptly kills upon learning his name was mentioned to the Feds.

Jackie Brown, who's 44 years old and scraping by on a $16,000 a year salary, gets bailed out of jail by Ordell, who plans to kill her after finding out what she told the Feds. Ordell sends bailbondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster) to pick her up from jail. Max falls immediately in love with Jackie and they start a conversation. Jackie decides that she can try to strike a deal both with the Feds and Ordell to win her freedom, get off scott-free and start a new life for herself. The film follows this plan of action as it takes a twisty path through Tarantino's eyes and Elmore Leonard's mind.

This movie is notable for a number of different reasons. First of all, Tarantino once again proves he is a master at handling sequences with dialogue. Unlike movies which attempt to ape his style, Jackie Brown's conversational scenes -- many of which have nothing to do with the plot -- are handled expertly. It as if we're eavesdropping on someone who has no idea they're on camera. No one, other than Kevin Smith of Clerks and Chasing Amy fame, can handle dialogue sequences this well.

Secondly, Tarantino once again finds ways to reanimate actors we may have passed over as passed their prime or out of their league with this type of material. This time out, we get Robert Forster, who's past credits include Scanner Cop II and Maniac Cop 3, and Pam Grier, the former Foxy Brown, who'd been relegated to playing roles strictly for yucks in films like Escape from L.A. and Mars Attacks! Tarantino pairs the two and generates some real sparks. There is great sexual chemistry between Grier and Forster, who both possess a grizzled charm, and the scenes featuring the two of them are among the best in the movie.

The rest of the cast, which sounds like a great line-up, doesn't quite hit on all cylinders. Samuel L. Jackson hams it up as Ordell and seems to be enjoying himself. His performance eclipses his role as Jules in Pulp Fiction. Robert DeNiro, however, seems to have been inserted merely for the weight his name carries on a marquee. His performance is mostly limited to sucking on a bong and twitching. Michael Keaton seems out of place as the gung-ho ATF agent, but he's not bad. Bridget Fonda looks great in her bikini top and cut-off shorts but her role could have been played by any body.

My only real quibble with the film is that it runs a little slow in places. The editing could have been tightened up a bit and some of the sequences would have flowed together better than they do.

Overall, Jackie Brown is a welcome return for Tarantino. It may lack the grit of Pulp Fiction, but it's got a gruff charm all its own. Hopefully, we won't have to wait another three years for Tarantino's next film.

Trivia: Director Quentin Tarantino's voice can be heard on Jackie Brown's answering machine when she checks her messages. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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