Welcome back to Filling the Gaps, our little series on films we should have seen, but somehow missed.
Tarantino fans treat Jackie Brown as the ugly little stepsister in his oeuvre, and critics seem to ignore it altogether, even though it's Tarantino's most effective homage to the art of filmmaking. One can assume it's ignored because it's the least "Tarantino-esque" of his films; you've got the wit, you've got the experimental story telling, you've got the references to genre b-films, but it's more of a human story.
The story's framed as a simple heist, but the gangster elements merely provide a skeleton for Tarantino to hang a much more complicated story about unrequited love, loyalty, and the tension between love, greed and fear.
Emotions are important. The characters who make it through the film have the good sense to either love Jackie or fear Ordell, and often both. The "fearless" characters end up with bullets in their brains; Louis, with his post-prison haze, Melanie, with her failure to connect with the real world, Ordell, with his general sense that nothing in the world actually affects him.
Tarantino sets the story up as a delicate conflict between three teams: Louis, Ordell and his concumbines, the ATF agents, and Jackie and Max (the bail bondsman played to perfection by Robert Forster).
Much of the rising action in the film comes from the steady disintegration of these partnerships. In each case, Tarantino provides us with moments of hope that he brutally strips away, most tragically with Jackie and Max.
You can't create this kind of story without a powerhouse acting talent, and the cast meets the challenge. So much of the film is conveyed through fleeting expressions; blink, and you'll miss important character moments.
Even if you haven't seen the run of seventies' films that made Pam Grier a star (I haven't), Jackie Brown provides a perfect showcase for why she's idolized by so many. Robert de Niro plays completely against type as an inept dumbass who sleepwalks through the world until anger breaks him free. Samuel L. Jackson steals the show with a surprisingly restrained performance.
Have you seen Jackie Brown? Share your thoughts in the comments!