Jackie Brown (1997)
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
March 15 at Lincoln Center, part of its Foxy: The Complete Pam Grier
Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) is a flight attendant busted for transferring cash that belongs to gun-runner Ordell from Mexico to LA—along with, to her surprise, a bag of cocaine. Intercepted by DEA agent Ray Nicolette (Michael Keaton, arguably in his last juicy role), she agrees to pull a double-cross on Ordell with the feds’ help—if her boss (and, it’s implied, former lover) doesn’t get to her first. Enter Max Cherry (Robert Forster), the low-rent bail bondsman who’s so square he’s practically a cube, stiffly drawn toward her despite the obvious blurring of business and pleasure. Max and Jackie become coconspirators with a laid-back, easygoing repartee that’s less common among people under 40. She introduces him to The Delfonics; he reminds her that “A good cop will never let you know he knows you're full of shit.” Only when the squeeze gets put on Jackie does Grier lapse back into her snarling, solidarity-fused 70s patois, a chord change that the actress reserves for the heaviest moments. It works beautifully; the added mileage isn’t some attention-grabbing actorly affect but Grier’s own.
Of Quentin Tarantino’s films, it’s hardest to boil Jackie Brown down to a set of signature strokes; nothing here has the iconographic largesse of Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction or the blood-spattered black suits of Reservoir Dogs. Instead, coming off of his biggest score yet, adapting Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch, it seems QT aimed to make something more adult, more contemporary, more talkative—for an auteur, more anonymous. The soundtrack (including Bobby Womack’s reappropriated song from Across 110th Street) trades the streets of Harlem for the freeway offramps of SoCal, an environment made colorfully boring—mildewed without being ostentatious. Nearly every scene (especially in the last hour) feels stretched to the nerves of its fingertips, the director unwilling to let any personal tic or character quirk slip. Tarantino is clearly getting his genre kicks via casting: lip-syncing as they idle in traffic, Grier and Forster give sorrowful, career-best performances in the only onscreen romance Tarantino’s ever come close to pulling off. Its emotional vulnerability makes Django Unchained look like, well, a cartoon.