Take a Drink: for TVs
Take a Drink: for indoor smoking
Take a Drink: for bail bonds
Take a Drink: for references, callbacks, and similarities to other films
Take a Drink: every time a bag changes hands
Do a Shot: for Tarantino’s foot fetish
Do a Shot: for name character deaths
By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
This week I finally got a chance to watch Life of Crime, the John Hawkes and Yasiin Bey (Mos Def)-starring Elmore Leonard adaptation that’s a quasi-prequel to Jackie Brown, since they play younger versions of Robert DeNiro and Samuel L. Jackson’s characters in that film. So, I figured there was no time like the present to revisit a film I’d always considered a somewhat lesser entry in the Tarantino cannon.
Jackie Brown is Quentin Tarantino’s only non-original screenplay, following several-time Leonard protagonists Ordell Robbie (Jackson) and Louis (DeNiro) as they scheme to get Ordell’s gun-running money out of Mexico with two ATF agents (Michael Keaton and Michael Bowen) hot on their trail. Their plan hinges on flight stewardess Jackie Brown (Pam Grier), who would smuggle it back for them. After she’s stopped by the agents, though, she’s caught between them and Ordell, and must decide who to help, or whether to make a play for the money herself. A hangdog bail bondsman (Robert Forster) who’s smitten with her may be just the help she needs.
Tarantino was already quite faithful to Leonard’s Rum Punch except for one detail- he changed the lead form Caucasian to African American and cast 70s blaxploitation legend Pam Grier (Foxy Brown, Coffy) in the lead. While Jackie Brown isn’t Tarantino’s blaxploitation film persay, he fills it with many of its funky, effortlessly cool trappings, from songs like the perfectly employed “Across 100th Street” to the titles and transitions, which set it apart from the other 26 Leonard adaptations out there.
Yeah… this could totally use a little Pam Grier.
Besides the stylish editing and cinematography, less flashy than his other films but still impressive (that opening The Graduate-aping tracking shot!) and recognizably his, the script and dialogue are pure Tarantino. It’s verbose, attuned to but not limited by the pop culture of the era (well… except for Ordell’s sense of style), and hilariously profane, while still delivering unique characters in a way the many Taranto imitators never could. Speaking of Ordell, he must be one of Samuel L. Jackson’s most singular creations, a smooth, matter of fact, and viper-tempered force of nature like only he and Tarantino’s unique working relationship can produce.
With a sense of style best described as “MC Hammer meets Crypt Keeper”
DeNiro has a more taciturn, supporting role than we’re used to from him, playing a slacker bastard fuckup with a hidden violent streak. He’s basically a sociopath Jeff Lebowski. Keaton, Bridget Fonda, and Chris Tucker also make impressions in small roles as well, but the film really belongs to Grier and Forster. The latter got an Oscar nomination for his effort, and it’s a bit of a crime that Grier didn’t as well. Both have been kicked around by life, but it hasn’t made them mean- just careful, practical, perhaps guarded, but still inherently decent. It’s not a conventional romantic dynamic- Grier may not return his feelings at all, but you really feel for them. It’s a realistic relationship, but hands-down Tarantino’s most romantic one.
The one gripe I have is that the plot is driven by characters trusting each other too much for their own good. Pretty much everyone who ends up dead does so because they took somebody’s word for it at the worst possible time. Of course, that’s probably realistic, however head-slapping it is. The most egregious example, though, is how Robert DeNiro and Bridget Fonda’s erstwhile partnership ends. It’s good for a quick, full black laugh, sure, but always sat wrong with me. It’s a nasty little scene that shows just how sociopathic these characters are. I’m surprised Life of Crime was pitched as anything but a hard drama or thriller, honestly.
There’s probably a reason Jennifer Aniston’s character doesn’t show up in Jackie Brown
So, my cinematic tastes must have matured, because my second viewing of Jackie Brown revealed it to be Tarantino’s most subdued effort, and one of his few best. Jackie Brown has it all.