Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Pam Grier, Samuel
L. Jackson, Robert Forster, Robert De Niro, Bridget Fonda, Michael Keaton
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 154 Minutes
Release Date: October 4, 2011
“AK 47…the very best there is. When you absolutely, positively have to kill every mutherf—ker in the room. Accept no substitutes.”
Has a director ever scored a more exciting triple play with his first three movies than Quentin Tarantino? Maybe Paul Thomas Anderson, but few other names come to mind. Tarantino flexed his audacious artistic muscle for all to marvel at in Reservoir Dogs, then he boldly used that muscle for a strange, non-linear cinematic journey in Pulp Fiction that audiences would either surrender to or give up on. Surrender they did, to the tune of over $100 million at the box office.
In Jackie Brown, Tarantino settles into an unmistakable yet comfortable groove. It’s a film by an artist who no longer feels he has to prove himself. He’s concentrated all his energies into his story, his characters, and his style, which, from a purely cinematic point of view, has never been more daring yet more suited to the story at hand.
Based on the novel Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard, Tarantino mixes the crime drama with a little 70s energy, blaxploitation style. He imagined it a perfect comeback vehicle for legendary screen star Pam Grier (even though in the novel, the character is Caucasian), and he was right…it’s only too bad that more producers didn’t recognize what a hunk of dynamite she was and give her that comeback she was so fully due, a la John Travolta in Pulp Fiction.
She plays the title character as a stewardess caught between a rock and a hard place. To support her piddling income from her job on the worst airline in the country, she occasionally runs money in from Mexico to illegal gun supplier Ordell (Jackson). But a recent snag in the operation lands her in the custody of two ATF agents, including Ray (Keaton), who makes it plain that he’s not interested in her; only Ordell. If she helps spring the trap, she’ll avoid jail. But Ordell has a habit of getting to those who could speak his name before their mouths ever open. What will she do?
With the help of an enamored bail bondsman, Max (Forster), the desperate Jackie begins to piece together the plot that might keep her alive and out of jail at the same time. On the other side, Ordell has placed his stock in several unlikely characters, the somewhat dim Luis (De Niro) and the perpetually stoned Melanie (Fonda) to name two. The fact that they end up engrossed in the unfolding plot is just one of the ways Tarantino keeps us guessing…we know things can go wrong, but will they, and how much?
The crux of the film involves the intricate execution of Jackie’s plan, which Tarantino shows us from different points of view…a brilliant stroke, possibly a nod to Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing, but in this case, it’s more indicative of Tarantino’s own style of fracturing and/or replaying time lines. What we do or don’t see at critical moments has tremendous impact on the way we view the story, which he reveals to us only a layer at a time. We see how it all comes together…or in at least one case, how it all goes to pieces.
As always, Tarantino finds a perfect and dynamic cast to carry out his vision. De Niro shines in an unusual role for him, playing mostly quiet against a hubbub of activity around him. Jackson is an actor capable of bringing great menace to a role, and he does so here with no restraints, making Ordell considerably darker than his Jules character in Pulp Fiction. Robert Forster, nominated for an Oscar, has arguably never been better. But of course, the real star and force that drives the picture from beginning to end is Pam Grier. Her presence is commanding and her performance is top notch…we are with her every step of the way.
Jackie Brown ultimately proved that one of the 90s’ great cinema stylists was more than just style. Quentin Tarantino brought his characters to bigger and better life than ever before, and used them to propel his story forward through twists, turns, and other surprises. He makes it feel as though they are dictating the outcome instead of him, which is perhaps the biggest indicator than an already acclaimed and prolific young director had finally found comfort in his own skin.
BONUS TRIVIA: Tarantino makes an appearance in the film…sort of. He’s the voice on Jackie’s answering machine.
Damn right!! Lionsgate proved this Blu-ray edition was one worth waiting for in more ways than one, starting with the stellar anamorphic transfer. Jackie Brown is a detailed, colorful array of visuals from start to finish. Apart from the Kill Bill movies, this may be Tarantino’s best use yet of art design, and this disc makes the most of it with bright, natural and well-contained colors, sharp images, clean print and no hints of compression artifacts. A knockout all the way!
DISCO!! In DTS HD, Jackie Brown gets down. From the few surprising bits of action that open up the listening experience across all channels to the always terrific Quentin Tarantino song score of classics that give the subwoofer its boom and the audio its ambience, this is a disc that makes the most of uncompressed 5.1 audio…clean, clear, dynamic, and razor sharp all the way.
DY-NO-MITE!! This Blu-ray is packed with goodies. Some are fun and informative, and others are just plain fun. There is a short introduction by Tarantino as well as an optional subtitled trivia track. It’s just about as good as an audio commentary, because you can still watch the film in 5.1 glory while reading endless amounts of notes and tidbits pertaining to the movie while you watch…very well done!
Next, you'll want to check out the “How it Went Down” documentary…interviews with Tarantino and his cast and crew (I think Robert De Niro even says one line…maybe two!) that touch on the making of the film and Tarantino’s inspirations. Even novelist Elmore Leonard is in on the mix! There is also the infamous “Chicks With Guns” video, six deleted and alternate scenes, the “Siskel & Ebert” review of the movie, a big collection of movie trailers for both Pam Grier and Robert Forster, three trailers and 8 TV spots for this film, Pam Grier radio spots, 10 printed reviews and 8 articles on the movie, filmographies, 9 stills galleries, Jackie Brown on MTV, and a retrospective interview with Tarantino. An outstanding package all around!
Accept no substitutes…Jackie Brown is the real deal, both as a film and as a Blu-ray. This one was worth waiting for…a must have for any collector.