(director/writer: Quentin Tarantino; cinematographer: Guillermo Navarro; editor: Sally Menke; cast: Pam Grier (Jackie Brown), Samuel L. Jackson (Ordell Robbie), Robert Forster (Max Cherry), Michael Keaton (Ray Nicolette), Robert De Niro (Louis Gara), Bridget Fonda (Melanie), Michael Bowen (Mark Dargus), Chris Tucker (Beaumont Livingston); Runtime: 154; Buena Vista; 1997)
“An unconventional crime caper.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
An unconventional crime caper adapted from an Elmore Leonard story about double-crosses and gun smuggling. Former black exploitation picture queen, Pam Grier, plays the hard luck 44-year-old airline attendant who works for the gunrunner Samuel L. Jackson in order to supplement her low paying job (her salary is only $16 grand a year), but she gets caught smuggling drugs and money in from the Mexico to L.A. flight. She realizes that she has been set-up, so she cuts a deal with the AFT agent (Keaton) and the L.A. cop (Bowen) to entrap Jackson, and she also makes a deal with Jackson so that she can continue to take money in for him by telling him about the deal she cut with the Feds.
What is unconventional about this film is obviously not the plot, we have seen all this before, but the dialogue is deliciously witty and outrageous, every character in the film has something to say that flies in the face of convention. These are people I wouldn’t want to spend quality time with. I certainly would not want to be exchanging barbs with them. But I do find them charming on the screen.
I was also pleased at Tarantino’s homage to Grier and the ’70s, as he plays some Delphonics soundtracks and introduces Pam’s appearance in the film with a ’70s soundtrack of Bobby Womack singing “Across 110th Street”.
This is a film about characters not story line. Bridget Fonda plays the part of the sexpot, druggie girlfriend of Jackson, who possesses a twisted sense of humor that doesn’t sit too well with Robert De Niro. He is the bumbling ex-con and right-hand man of Jackson, reacquainting himself with the crime scene after just being released from prison, serving 4-years for a bank robbery. This is a very quiet role for an actor of his stature, but he performs it as he should, on a low level, not upstaging the loquacious Jackson. Chris Tucker is the Jackson employee who screws up and who Jackson bails out of jail, and then asks him as a favor if he can get into the car trunk and take a short ride with him so that he can pay back what Jackson did for him by being a back-up for him in a gun deal Jackson has going down. The scene is brilliantly funny, as Tucker tells Jackson why he doesn’t want to get in the trunk. It is funny even after we see and realize the violence that follows because we don’t care what happens to most of the characters, not even to the rather sweet Pam. Though, we are somewhat affected by her desperate situation for a moment or two.
Robert Forster plays the 56-year-old sentimental yet hard-nosed bail bondsman who falls for Pam and helps her carry off her scheme. He steals the picture in a low-key, enigmatic performance. He might be the only one in the film we could care about and the only one we wonder about but even for him, we do not feel deeply. His silence and hidden motives are contrasted with Jackson’s blatant loudness, and he comes off rather well. The Jackson character becomes too much for us to handle and actually starts wearing on our nerves.
The film falls way short of being as entertaining as Pulp Fiction. But what is noteworthy is how crisp the acting was, especially how Pam played her part. It was very believable and without believing her the picture would have fallen apart.
REVIEWED ON 9/16/98 GRADE: B