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How do you follow Pulp Fiction?
That was the problem facing Quentin Tarantino in the mid-1990's after he had just created one of the truly great films in cinema (one of my absolute personal favourites, in case you couldn't tell!). Looking for inspiration, he bought the rights to three of writer Elmore Leonard's books - 'Rum Punch', 'Freaky Deaky' and 'Killshot', and decided to adapt 'Rum Punch' for the screen, which ultimately became Jackie Brown.
Never one to slavishly adapt a book, Tarantino did what he does best, and turned it in part into a homage to his love of 70's 'blaxploitation' movies. Although retaining a lot of Leonard's story, Tarantino made the main character black (she was white in the book), and made her 'Jackie Brown' instead of 'Jackie Burke', which fit his blaxploitation motif better. He also injected some of his trademark black humour and pop culture dialogue.
Tarantino only had one person in mind for the main character, and that was Pam Grier; Grier had been a big name in 70's blaxploitation cinema, starring in 'Coffy' and 'Foxy Brown', and the film has many echoes of those characters in its style. Tarantino rounded out the main cast with some great names, as he usually does. The film was shot throughout 1996, on a relatively modest budget of $12 million, and released in 1997.
Pam Grier - Jackie Brown
Samuel L. Jackson - Ordell Robbie
Robert Forster - Max Cherry
Bridget Fonda - Melanie Ralston
Michael Keaton - Ray Nicolet
Robert De Niro - Louis Gara
Chris Tucker - Beaumont Livingston
Jackie Brown is an air stewardess/ flight attendant for a small Mexican airline, struggling financially she also smuggles money from Mexico to the U.S, for a very dangerous arms dealer, Ordell (Samuel Jackson). When one of Ordell's other couriers ,Beaumont, is captured by the authorities he provides some information before he is bailed and murdered by Ordell; his evidence leads to Jackie being caught and arrested, and put in prison (she had been carrying cocaine, unknown to her). Ordell is worried she will also confess to the authorities, and looks to have her bailed and murdered.
Jackie makes friends with Ordell's bondsman Max, and when Ordell visits her apartment to kill her she is ready for him; she offers to pretend to help the authorities by supplying fake information, while allowing Orvell to make one last huge smuggling run of over half a million dollars. This is when it gets complicated.....
From this point on, you can't trust anyone. Although Jackie tells the authorities she is helping them and double crossing Ordell, she tells Ordell she is double crossing the authorities to help him, and tells Max she is double crossing both sides to take the money herself. The money run is arranged, with all the main sides in attendance. As you may imagine, things don't end that well for a lot of the characters.....
Funnily enough, when I first saw this film I didn't immediately fall in love with it; I thought it was....ok. It is only on repeated viewings that you appreciate the film in full. It is full of great performances (Robert Forster as Max is especially good), sparkling dialogue, fully fleshed out characters and a great 'who do you trust?' twisting plot. You get drawn into the seedy world of petty drugs and crime, and begin to wonder can you trust any of these people...At 2 1/2 hours it doesn't outstay its welcome either, as some of the character development early on is especially relevant later. Throw in a fabulous soundtrack, with songs from those 70's blaxploitation movies, and you have a winning combination. Watch it once, you'll like it. Watch it twice, you'll love it.
Firstly, the picture quality and audio are very good. Not perfect by any means, but this is a film from 1997 and is definitely an improvement on the dvd release. Rich colours, nice detailing etc. Not ecstatic, but happy enough. As always, it is the extras that are the attraction. What do we get....some pretty good stuff, actually.
'How it Went Down' is a 40 minute documentary on the genesis of the film, covering the book, adapting it to the screen, the casting, production etc. Really interesting background.
'A Look Back: Interview with Quentin' is probably the highlight of the extras for me, nearly an hour interview with Tarantino. As well as plenty of background on the movie itself, we get a lot of chat about movies in general, his influences, the actors he likes etc. A really good watch.
There is also a whole bunch of smaller extras, some fun, some not so much.
'Chicks with Guns Video' - a tongue in cheek nod to the fictional film in 'Jackie Brown'. Good.
'Deleted/Alternate Scenes' - always interesting to view, Tarantino introduces. Good
'Siskel & Ebert Review' - of historical interest, if nothing else. (They liked it!)
'Jackie Brown on MTV' - popcorn promo stuff. Bad.
'Marketing Gallery' - the typical stuff, trailers, tv adverts, posters. Not bad.
'Still Galleries' - Moderately interesting stills, although there are some fun old Grier posters. OK.
'Enhanced Trivia Track' - OK
'Soundtrack Chapters' - Like a particular track? you can go straight to any point in the movie a song plays.
Robert Forster and Pam Grier Trailers - over 30 trailers from the back catalogue. Fun stuff.
For me, this is a vastly underrated film. Not as pop culture relevant as Reservoir Dogs, or as technically perfect as Pulp Fiction, this is still the work of a director at the top of his game, and a cast who clearly enjoy working for him. Tarantino has made a slower, more methodical and traditional film than he normally does. The slower pace allows the characters to breathe a little, for the audience to develop a bond with them, before the mayhem of the last third of the film. It probably remains Tarantino's most mature film, and one in which he coaxed out the performances of their lives in Pam Grier and Robert Forster.
Give it a go.