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Blu-ray Review: Jackie Brown

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Perhaps I am being foolish, but Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown makes me sad.  I think that Jackie Brown is a well constructed, well scripted film.  I might actually classify it as a great movie, but it still makes me sad.  As much fun as his previous efforts, Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, are, I think that Jackie Brown shows off Tarantino’s skills as a writer and as a director in far more grand fashion. 

So, why does Jackie Brown make me sad?  It makes me sad because I feel as though after Jackie Brown Tarantino opted to spend roughly the next decade making movies to fit certain very small niches he enjoys rather than  making a single overall great movie.  Now, some folks out there will instantly jump on me because Jackie Brown unquestionably harkens back to the ’70s’ genres Tarantino loves so much, and while that’s true, it still is a far more accessible movie than either of the Kill Bill films or Death Proof.  Tarantino doesn’t have to make films to appeal to everyone, in fact I’d argue that he should only make movies he wants to make, but there is a difference—even if it’s hard to discern—between a Death Proof and a Jackie Brown.  This may be a fruitless discussion though (at least fruitless without spending more time than we have on it), so let us press on.

One of the reasons Jackie Brown is an important film for Tarantino is because it is such a drastic departure from Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs.  While the language may not be toned down here, the violence unquestionably is, and it is also a movie which, almost entirely, is told from one point in time forward as opposed to jumping around (a technique which can cover other sins in a film).  For me, Jackie Brown is a movie which shows that Tarantino can add a whole lot of substance to the abundant amounts of style present in his earlier efforts.

Based on Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch, this film stars Pam Grier as Jackie Brown, a down on her luck stewardess who is helping a wannabe gun runner, Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson), ferry cash to and from Mexico.  The exact story there, why Robbie has his money in Mexico and how he got it there and why he can’t get it himself and why he would want to bring it back and… and… and… are somewhat unclear, but that’s all just the maguffin which gets the story going.  The real tale is about Jackie maybe or maybe not falling in love with bail bondsmen Max Cherry (Robert Forster) and his helping her avoid the police, ATF, and Robbie as she tries to steal the money.

Sure, it’s a crime caper, just as are Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, but Tarantino again shows here that he handles capers with a skill and deftness many others do not.  Those in the audience quickly fall not just for poor Jackie, but also for gunrunner Ordell (and him despite his use of murder as a tactic for shutting up people who may turn on him), and bail bondsman Max.  Other characters are less likable—Robert De Niro’s Louis Gara, an associate of Ordell’s; and Michael Keaton’s ATF agent, Ray Nicolette, lead that group—but they’re given distinctly less on screen time than the likable characters.

One of the biggest differences between Jackie Brown and Tarantino’s earlier works is that while Tarantino’s dialogue is still great here, he’s able to write that dialogue without giving quite as many ridiculously long speeches and straying off onto odd tangents.  The film, which clocks in at over two-and-a-half hours isn’t exactly brief, but it doesn’t feel as though there are any extraneous moments in it.  It tells the tale it set out to tell without cutting anything too short or letting anything run long. 

Jackie Brown is, from start to finish, a great crime caper.  Each and every actor in the film delivers a great performance (including the as yet unmentioned Chris Tucker, Bridget Fonda, and Michael Bowen), creating memorable, believable characters.  Even Jackson, who has a penchant for scenery chewing, while somewhat over the top, is in check enough to be both enjoyable and realistic.

The new Blu-ray release delivers the film in all its glory.  Neither overly scrubbed nor left dirty and disappointing, the visuals are excellent.  The level of detail present is impressive, particularly the close-ups on faces.  The colors are brilliant, bright and rich, with excellent black levels and nothing lost in shadows.  The 5.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack pumps plenty of bass, and enjoys excellent use of the surrounds.  As with other Tarantino films, the music in the film is an important part of the overall flavor here and every beat comes through perfectly. Whatever it may mean, the film does state that the transfer was approved by Tarantino himself.

The disc also comes with over three hours of bonus features, and while they’re nominally interesting, none proves to be completely engrossing.  Up first is a roundtable discussion with film critics led by Elvis Mitchell.  There is also an extended interview with Tarantino looking back on the film and another set of interviews with members of the cast and crew talking about the making of the film.  Those take care of the main pieces and much of the three hours.  These are by far the most informative and interesting of the extras, but there is really nothing to classify as a “must see.”  Beyond that there are deleted/alternate scenes, a whole lot of marketing stuff (including for and Grier films, and Forster ones too, that are not Jackie Brown), the complete “Chicks with Guns” video that airs in the movie, the Siskel & Ebert review of the film, and a trivia track. 

From start to finish, Jackie Brown is as much proof as any film he’s made that Quentin Tarantino is a brilliant director who not only knows how to tell a story with style but to get great performances from his actors.  It is also a film which makes me long for more from Tarantino, no matter what subgenre they may fall into.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
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