January 13, 1998
Whenever anybody mentions promising new directors, they almost always talk about Quentin Tarantino. This is how he actually reached his notoriety by being known as The New Director to watch. With the mammoth success of Pulp Fiction, there has been a dramatic increase in interest in independent films by both business tycoons and the every day movie fan. Instead of immediately capitalizing on his new found success, however, Tarantino let the hype surrounding him die down before releasing a new film, perhaps because he was much too aware of the negative effects that a lot of hype tends to have on a person's career. Three years, ten John Travolta films, and a million obnoxious interviews later, Tarantino proves with his new film Jackie Brown that he's going to be around for much longer than 15 minutes.
Jackie Brown, Tarantino's third film, is the adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel (Rum Punch) starring Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, and Robert Forester among others. The title character (Grier) is a middle-aged airplane stewardess who is caught laundering money to and from Mexico for a local racketeer, played by Jackson. Robert Forester is Brown's jail bondsman/romantic interest, and serves as her adviser as she tries to manipulate both Jackson and the police. As usual, Tarantino extracts brilliant performances from his entire cast. Jackson is superb, playing a similar character as the one he played in Pulp Fiction, a smooth talking, street-smart hoodlum who is perhaps too proud of his criminal status. Robert DeNiro is outstanding as Jackson's dim-witted sidekick, always a little slow in drawing conclusions. Bridget Fonda is hysterical as Jackson's groupie who is upset that she's not in on the score and is always anxious to prove her independence and intelligence which, unfortunately for her, does not seem to be accessible. Forester gives perhaps the best performance in the movie as a quiet, intelligent man who will stun you with his insight throughout the entire film. Grier, although the weakest link in the chain, gives a fair performance as a women who is over the hill and doesn't have many promising prospects remaining in her life. I read an interview recently in which Tarantino says that with Jackie Brown he hopes to show that he's not in the business for 5 years, but instead for 40. He succeeds in his mission. Although less intelligent and less memorable than Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown is a good film. It is much lighter and slower paced than Pulp Fiction, but this is to be expected because Tarantino directs movies and not just Pulp Fiction reincarnations. He knows very well of the failure that goes along with reproducing the same thing over and over again, for each of his last two movies have starred actors who have had this fate: Travolta as the disco dancer, and Grier as blaxploitation heroine. With this said, the thing about Jackie Brown that most impressed me is that although working with a completely different type of movie, Tarantino's unmistakable personality comes through throughout the entire film. He's got style, and that's a rare thing these days. Jackie Brown scores three out of four stars for me.
-- Matt Kessler