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
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