Jackie Brown (1997) / Thriller-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for strong language, some violence, drug use and sexuality
Running Time: 154 min.
Cast: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Deniro, Michael Keaton, Robert Forster, Bridget Fonda, Michael Bowen, Chris Tucker, Tommy 'Tiny' Lister,
Small role: Sid Haig, Denise Crosby, Quentin Tarantino (voice)
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino (based on the Elmore Leonard book, "Rum Punch")
Review published February 22, 1999
Based on the Elmore Leonard book, "Rum Punch", a flight attendant (Grier, Foxy Brown) for a Mexican airline is smuggling up money to Compton from her criminal boss's (Jackson, Trees Lounge) gun selling operation. She gets busted by the feds, but thinks her boss will kill her to prevent her from talking after he bails her out. While trying to figure her way out of her predicament, she concocts a plan whereby she can appease both parties long enough for her to make with a half million dollars of her boss's and get away, with the help of her bail bondsman (Forster, Alligator), who has taken a fancy to her.
Sensational performances and some niftily directed moments keep writer-director Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs) from sinking this film in the quagmire of his own excess. Tarantino may be a brilliant writer but he shows here that his talents as director may take some time to catch up. To be fair, had he chopped out at least 45 minutes worth of slow and pointless scenes, he may have pulled off another Academy Award nomination, but instead he falls in love with his characters and script too much and decided to release this film badly needing tightening and editing.
The film finally starts to heat up in the final third, where the real action starts happening. Robert Forster deservedly got the film's only Oscar nomination for his performance as the bail bondsman. Grier gives her best performance, with Keaton (Batman Returns), Jackson, and De Niro (Wag the Dog) delivering the quality you'd expect.
Tarantino also shows flashes of one of his influences, Brian De Palma, when he employs his mentor's practice of split-screen action and revisiting the same scenes from different perspectives to give a complete story. But unlike De Palma, who tends to undo his movies through over-directing and loving style over character, Tarantino almost undoes this film by under-directing and loving his script more than his technique. Hopefully he learns this lesson before the studios crack down on him and he loses his ability to call his own shots.
Jackie Brown remains a good film with solid stretches, but it's a disappointment because with a cast and writing this good, it shouldn't have been anything less than great overall.
©1999 Vince Leo