Rated R - Running time: 2:35 - Released 12/25/97

There are really only three things necessary to make an excellent film: (1) consistently good acting, (2) consistently good directing, and (3) a consistently good script. It's surprising how few films are able to pull this off. But this one has no problem delivering all three, and continues to make it clear that Quentin Tarantino is coming into his own as one of the best writer/directors of the 1990s. His gutsy, no-nonsense style about life in urban America has given us such excellent films as Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, and his latest offering is as vibrant as any he has produced.

This does not say anything, however, about whether Jackie Brown is a fun movie to watch. The TV commercials for this film, by culling out a few funny lines and situations, make it look almost like a comedy. But there is little to laugh about here. The subjects of drug abuse, murder, and illegal weapons trafficking are not by any means humorous, and the brutality and obscene language may give some viewers pause. Sometimes in movies, violent acts are portrayed in such an overblown fashion that the horror is taken out of it. But that is not the case here. Tarantino, oft accused of excessive violence, has said that he is just showing truthfully the facts of life in the crime-infested inner city.

This story revolves around Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson), a cold-blooded dealer of illegal weapons across international borders, and Jackie Brown (Pam Grier), a flight attendant who serves as his connection to Mexico. She delivers the goods and brings back the money, or vice versa, as the case may be. But when she is stopped by agent Ray Nicolet (Michael Keaton) of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms and found with $50,000, she is in hot water. If she helps Ray in his plan to incarcerate Ordell, she can get a lighter sentence — but if things go wrong, her life will most definitely be in danger. But she is a shrewd woman, and with the aid of Max Cherry (Robert Forster), a bail bondsman who takes a liking to her, she might be able to make everybody happy. Or maybe not. In a complex operation that involves all the above parties plus Ordell's continually stoned girlfriend Melanie (Bridget Fonda) and his partner Louis (Robert DeNiro, also stoned), it is hard to see at first if everything goes as planned.

This is a devilishly complex and fascinating story. At one point Jackie has three different deals going with Ordell, Max, and Ray, and it is not at all clear with which one she's on the level. But the script never seems muddled or over-complicated. The tension is established early and maintained at a low boil throughout the movie. The characterizations are distinct and clear, but subtle, and all the acting is excruciatingly real. This is the unmistakable sign of good directing. Tarantino last directed Jackson in Pulp Fiction, and the two seem to be able to work together to good effect. Jackson is chilling as Ordell, and DeNiro's pothead Louis is a slight departure from his regular tough-guy character, who is usually in control. In this film, control is the last thing Louis has. Grier is very real as the likeable title character, as is her heartfelt relationship with Forster.

There is some humor in this film, but not enough to inspire one to laugh out loud, as in Pulp Fiction. There are also some really interesting, convention-breaking cinematographic elements. The violence is not graphic in the sense that there is blood splattered all over the screen; there is really very little carnage, but Tarantino's directing is so subtle that he is able to deliver the horror in a style that is actually more profound.

So be warned: like Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown is excellently produced, but if your enjoyment of a film cannot withstand acts of brutality, extreme profanity, and repeated drug use, the plot may turn your stomach. ****½

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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